Experience earned after a season under the sun
“This is probably the only time in your life when you’ll be able to do this,” Craig Totten said. Totten, a Jamestown native, told me this in January when I went to talk to him about interning at Greenview Farm, his organic vegetable farm in Wakefield.
I studied textiles and art at the University of Rhode Island and enjoyed being an artist. During my summers off, I started working at nurseries such as Schartner Farms in Exeter, the Farmer’s Daughter in South Kingstown and Clark Farms in Matunuck.
It wasn’t until 2008 when I went to work at Farmer’s Daughter that I realized how much of this I enjoyed. The relationship between the customers and plants were always so positive.
In April, while planting seeds in one of his four greenhouses, Craig talked about the upcoming months and what to expect on the farm. A cerebral guy, he told me stories of how he started off alone and created such a successful farm over the years. He now runs it with his wife, Emily. Listening to his ideas and how he executed them was impressive.
Today, they operate a 12-acre farm and are part of community supportive agriculture (CSA), a vegetable co-op, with 160 members. They have established accounts with Newport’s Castle Hill Inn and Resort, the Clarke Cook House Restaurant and the Mooring Seafood Kitchen and Bar. They also have a weekly farmers market in Middletown.
Craig and Emily opened up their farm to me as a learning tool and walked me through every task. They showed me what they were looking for as far as effi ciency and quality. I had previous knowledge with greenhouses and plants, but when it came to agriculture, I went into the season totally blind.
At the start of the season, I learned first hand how to put down black plastic on the beds, and connect the irrigation piping. Craig and I successfully constructed a hoop tunnel using PVC piping that would house nearly 2,500 tomato plants. I trellised the tomatoes each week by clipping them onto the hanging strings in the greenhouses and weaving string between each row of plants staked out in the fields.
On another day, when the wind was dead, Craig taught me how to polyethylene a large greenhouse. It was a project that took precision and patience. The next day we both looked at that house with excitement that the poly was tightly on.
Our tasks on the farm were systematic. Each day we had certain vegetables that needed to be harvested or planted. Every Wednesday the crew would head out to the field and plant 9,600 lettuce plugs for the mesclun salad mix. It was always a race against time and the heat. Towards the end of the season, Craig and Emily went to Maine and left me in charge of running the farm for two days and preparing for our CSA pick-up.
To say the least, I had a fulfilling summer. As the season was making its way to the finish line, I saw each crewmember say goodbye to a time that we spent under the sun with our hands in the dirt. In the end, it remained as it was in the beginning. As I looked out and saw how raw the tilled fields had become, it reminded me of the early days of the season. The farm had gone full circle.
While saying goodbye to Craig and getting my last lick on the face from Boon, the farm dog, it felt like I had just closed the book on a good story. The experience and hard work has been enriching. I’ve had the pleasure to meet a lot of wonderful farmers in the state and see how everyone operates their own land. It has been an incredible learning experience and I can’t wait until next season.