Zan McKenna sorts tomatoes at the wash station carousel.

Every year, I particularly enjoy interviewing our farm apprentices. These talented people work amazingly hard to make the farm go, and I want to share my appreciation for them with everyone who enjoys the food we grow. Over the next couple of months, I’ll make visits to harvest fields and wash-stations to talk with our four first-year apprentices. Last Monday, I caught up with Zan McKenna while washing and packing about a million tubs of cucumbers and squash.
Zan grew up in Connecticut, and her family had a huge garden. However, like most of us, she didn’t grow up with farming. For many years, Zan planned to be an actor, and performed in musicals, movies and plays. But Barbara Kingsolver helped turn Zan’s aspirations from acting to farming. When, at 16, Zan read Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” [note: next week, I’ll post my 2008 Down on the Farm review of this fine book] she was impressed by how fascinating and complex growing food is, and began to think this could be her life’s work. Experience at Farm and Wilderness camp as both camper and counselor added to this idea. Farming also matches well her need for physical labor. So, after graduating high school, she began to learn about and work on farms in travels that took her to several countries. Last season, she worked at Riverland Farm just up the road, where she gained more experience and met her fiancé, David. They decided to stay in this area and continue working and learning while they began the search for a farm of their own. Zan applied to work at here at Simple Gifts Farm, especially drawn to our mixed livestock and vegetable operation, and the apprenticeship model in which we have our farm crew members participate in workshops other farms in the region as part of the CRAFT program, and to learn by working on all aspects of the farm.
For example, Zan hadn’t expected to love driving tractor, but she does. In particular, she really likes cultivating. It is a powerful feeling to tend the crops and soil. She also enjoys the animals – one day she burst in to farm lunch, late but exuberant about the birth of a batch of piglets. Indeed, her favorite farm job is chore duty, in which tending the various farm animals is a major part. In contrast to jobs that entail hours in one field, like harvesting, chores also gives her the chance to look over the whole farm and observe how things are going in all the fields.
As for the future, Zan hopes to raise livestock and perennial crops, as she is realizing that vegetables aren’t her particular passion. It’s hard for her to plow in fields so quickly, noting, “I’m just getting used to them and then they go away!” She and her fiancé are looking for land, mainly in northern New England. Their families are supportive of their farm dream, and they would like to get started soon, as they know that it takes many years to establish a farm business.
We’re glad to have Zan’s energy and cheer on the crew, and wish her many grand meals featuring fennel (her favorite vegetable) now, and lasting success in her farming career.
For everyone of Simple Gifts Farm – Audrey