|Hilary Dennis, with her harvest game face ON|
By Audrey Barker Plotkin
On a misty August morning before 8 a.m., I find Hilary Dennis in the full swing of a harvest day, picking hoophouse tomatoes. Over the course of the interview, I am in constant motion to keep up – up and down the hoophouse rows, into the box truck as she drives the crew out to the zukes and cukes, then into the cucumber rows. Fortunately, I’ve had my first cup of coffee.
Hilary studied environmental studies and Spanish at New York University, where she graduated in 2010. NYU, in the heart of Manhattan, isn’t where you’d expect to get the farming bug, and indeed she somewhat backed into farming. First, she became engaged in the local food dialogue in New York. One summer, she had two internships – one promoting a new farmers’ market in her hometown of Grafton, Massachusetts, and the other working on the state Global Warming Solutions Act with the Department of Environmental Protection. She noticed that although the state sought input from local farmers on how farms could reduce carbon emissions, those meetings were scheduled for mid-day during the height of the growing season. This disconnect between policy-makers and farmers got her thinking that she would like to go to law school and become an advocate for small farmers in policy. To start from the ground up in this plan, she decided she should get some experience working on small farms. Well, the grand plan radically changed on the first day farming – she fell in love with farm work and now aspires to some day have her own vegetable farm.
|The Farmall 140, with belly-mounted basket weeder|
Since graduating in 2010, Hilary worked on several farms in the region, but this is her first experience as a full season apprentice. She greatly appreciates the opportunities at Simple Gifts Farm to build her skills. In April, each apprentice is assigned a tractor, and Hilary jumped at the chance to learn to operate the Farmall 140 – our second-smallest tractor we use for precision cultivating work. This tractor also needed a fair bit of maintenance work (typical for this 50-plus-year-old machine), so Hilary quickly became well-acquainted with the machine, and learned that being handy with fixing equipment is a key part of keeping a farm running. Six months later, her favorite job is using the 140 for basket weeding, and she is looking forward to continuing to develop her field operations skill-set. When it is her week on the farm lunch rotation, she also enjoys experimenting with cooking up the produce – she even made ice-cream with her favorite vegetable, fennel!
When I ask Hilary what stands out to her about Simple Gifts Farm, she tells me how valuable Jeremy and Dave’s personalities are. Their patience and support to the crew set the tone for good morale. To Hilary, this is why despite the unseasonably cool and wet season, and all sorts of challenges, the crew can work well together to produce an abundance of amazing food.
We are glad that Hilary will join us for a second season, and we think her calm cheer and organization will set the tone for another good year. After she gets more experience managing a farm, we hope to see her (perhaps with her sister, who is also a farm convert) running her own successful enterprise.