By: Ashley Vajentic ’21
Just over a month ago, I started working at Siena Farms in Sudbury, Mass., as a farm apprentice. Two months before that, I decided to search for post-grad jobs in agriculture despite my double major in creative writing and communications studies. My interest in farming began in the fall of 2020 when I enrolled in the Sustainable Food Systems course at Colby-Sawyer College.
In the classroom, we learned where our food comes from on a local, national and global level. I gazed in horror at examples of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) — the terrible conditions for both animals and workers, along with the toxic effects of animal waste seeping into the water supply. I looked at different farming methods and settings (urban, vertical, aquaponic) and the benefits of regenerative, sustainable and organic agriculture, then put my knowledge to use in the college’s Permaculture and Main Street Gardens. I harvested bulbous butternut squash and dug potatoes out of the earth like buried treasure. I learned how to weed by hand, layer compost onto beds and use a broadfork to aerate the soil.
Through this course, I was given the chance to volunteer at Sweet Beet Farm in Bradford, N.H., and carpooled over with a few classmates. The first day, I met Co-founder and Director Pierre Hahn and Farm Worker Kate, as well as Farm Dog Sable and Farm Cat Link. Kate drove us out to a nearby squash field, where we clipped yellow spaghetti, striped delicata and green-orange acorn squash from the vine.
One classmate and I returned to Sweet Beet for a few hours each week. We enjoyed it so much that we continued volunteering even after the course ended and all the way up until graduation. Sweet Beet was where I was really introduced to farming: I managed tomato plants grown in a greenhouse, helped build garden beds, washed and packed microgreens for sale at Sweet Beet Market, drove a BCS tractor, planted cover crops and broke down a greenhouse at season’s end.
When the time arrived to start applying for my first post-grad position, I wanted to find something I would enjoy doing for 40-60 hours a week; I realized that could be farming — working outside and growing local produce. After over a dozen applications, a handful of virtual interviews and a slew of rejections, I accepted the position at Siena Farms. Now, I wake up at 5:40 a.m. and commute 35 minutes five days a week, working 55 hours. I’ve already learned and done so much. I love working outside and knowing my job helps provide good food for a good community, and I couldn’t ask for a more hardworking, accepting crew of coworkers.
Lots of people are curious about what farmers do and often ask me what my job entails. Here are some of the tasks I’ve completed in my first month as a farmer: planted seeds by hand and with a vacuum seeder, transplanted winter squash using a water wheel tractor, harvested tons of veggies (lettuce varieties, napa cabbage, kale, herbs, radishes and scallions to name a few), hand-weeded carrots and thinned beets, staked and trellised tomato plants, washed produce on a rinse conveyor, harvested shitake and oyster mushrooms and packed Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes for customers.
People will ask you what your five- or ten-year plan is, what your dream job is or the one place you want to live. All I know is that I’ll be at Siena Farms until Thanksgiving; after that, I’m not sure. These six months serve as my trial period to see if I want to pursue farming as a career. I can see myself working outside, doing something that aligns with my values and beliefs, but I still have interests in writing and podcasting. Maybe I’ll weave a bit of that into my career, or maybe it will just be a hobby. I’m open to the possibilities, and I’m open to change. If I can fall in love with farming in less than a year, who knows what new interests will shape my future.