Long-slanted afternoon light fills the Barkowski meadow as I walk out to meet Erika Allen last Friday afternoon. She drives up on the John Deere tractor, its bucket filled with fence posts. It has been a long week for us humans, but the cows are excited to move to a new section of pasture, and a bovine chorus serenades us as we work and talk.
Discovering farming as a potential career saved Erika from a lifetime of lawyer jokes. I’m sure she would be a good lawyer: smart, personable, and ready to advocate hard for environmental good. After graduating from Appalachian State University in her home state of North Carolina, she worked for several years in the non-profit sector, doing grassroots campaign work for environmental and social justice issues. She took the LSAT and was working on applications when her best friend – who just began a farm apprenticeship in Puget Sound – started sending her photos. At the same time, Erika visited her grandparents’ farm in Ohio and got a glimpse into their life, looking at old family photos. The opportunity to work for the environment without spending all her daylight hours in an office beckoned, and soon Erika was off to her first apprenticeship on a small, diversified farm in Milbridge, Maine.
Simple Gifts Farm came highly recommended when Erika was searching for her next farm apprenticeship. She appreciates the opportunity to work at a somewhat larger scale and learn how to operate tractors and their implements. Working with livestock (as she pounds in fence-posts to anchor the electric fence around the cows’ eagerly anticipated new paddock) is another skill she is glad to learn. Sometimes the larger scale does overwhelm; she described how, earlier that day, the crew was weeding the big field of strawberries and finding it difficult to see the progress. However, the camaraderie of the crew helps everyone to power through such Sysiphean tasks, and eventually get the boulder to the top of the mountain (that is, get the weeds to stay out of the field. . . until they grow back).
Although the apprenticeship year wraps up at Thanksgiving, we are happy that Erika will be here over the winter and for next season. She is looking forward to a winter out of the slushy city; she recalls coming out in the snow to interview here last year and finding the farm-in-snow ‘majestic’ (I know, the snow last year was challenging, but it was beautiful!). Next year, she intends to focus on expanding the flower plantings at the farm. This is something we’ve long had on our list of things we’d like to do, and we like second-year apprentices to have an independent project that helps the farm.
Long-term, Erika would like to own or manage a farm that focuses on flower production. The family land in Ohio is a possibility, although it is fairly isolated from markets. Alternatively, Maine has a strong draw, as Erika really likes the ‘salty but kind’ people there. Wherever it is, there will be masses of fragrant peonies, her favorite flower. In the meantime, we are glad to have her as part of the work and community of Simple Gifts Farm.