Week 8 marks my final week volunteering at Brooklyn Grange. The weather was perfect, and we spent the majority of the day harvesting different crops. Harvesting is one of the most satisfying jobs on the farm, so I felt very lucky to get to do so much of it on my last day.
After having an opportunity like this, I always try to reflect on the experience and take note of the key things I learned. I’d like to share those things with you.
The Five Things I Learned from Volunteering on a Rooftop Farm:
1) Farming systems work best when they are community oriented.
At Brooklyn Grange, consumers have the opportunity to see the farm where their food is grown and meet the farmers who grew the food. Not only does this allow the consumer to have peace of mind that what they are eating is nourishing for their bodies, but it also holds the farmers to a higher standard. At a farm like Brooklyn Grange, farmers have the opportunity to develop a reputation for being dependable. It is this farmer-consumer relationship that I believe to be one of the keystones of any successful farming operation.
One of the difficulties of organic farming is the reality that in order to provide healthy food at a reasonable cost, farmers must be willing to accept relatively low wages. Often times organic farms replace harmful pesticides, herbicides and heavy machinery with human labor. Many of the farmers I met were highly intelligent college graduates who sacrificed higher paying jobs in order to contribute to a cause that they believe in. At Brooklyn Grange, volunteers showed up every Saturday to tackle grunt work in an effort to save the farmers time and energy. I would highly encourage anyone reading this to consider playing a more involved role in local farming systems. Not only is it fulfilling to lend a helping hand, it is also important to experience first-hand the work that goes into producing the food that we eat.
2) Farming is really hard work.
I learned recently that volunteer Saturdays at Brooklyn Grange are actually the slowest paced day of the week for the farmers. This means that I didn’t really get a realistic taste of how difficult farming can be. Even the volunteer work was pretty hard on some days, so I have upmost respect for the famers who show up on a day-to-day basis.
3) Animals play a critical role in the farming process.
As a vegan, it can be easy to automatically condemn any form of animal captivity as cruel and unnecessary. However, over the course of the summer I changed my mind on this issue. Brooklyn Grange practices bee keeping, and I learned how important it is to have a large concentration of bees near your crops for the purpose of pollination. And although there are no cows on the rooftop, it is also important to acknowledge the role of cattle in soil fertilization. I still do not believe that animals should be killed for the purpose of feeding humans and I don’t believe that they should be kept in torturous conditions for the sake of producing dairy or eggs. I do believe that animals should be integrated into human food systems in a way that is mutually beneficial for us and the animals. The goal should be harmony rather than domination.
3) You don’t need much space to grow a lot of food.
I have always liked the idea of having a vegetable garden but I always worried that the amount of food grown in a small space might not be worth the effort to grow that food. From seeing the crop yield at Brooklyn Grange, I have determined that having a vegetable garden is most definitely a worthwhile endeavor. Many crops will continue to produce food time and time again even after you have harvested. This last week when we were harvesting, I was amazed to see how much food we were able to pick from such small crop patches. I highly recommend growing your own food. Not only is it a very sustainable practice, but it will also keep your grocery expenses way down.
4) Doing physical work outdoors is healthy for the mind and body.
Along with volunteering at Brooklyn Grange, I completed a nine-week internship this summer. At my internship I worked in an office and sat at a computer for 8 hours a day. Having these two experiences simultaneously really showed me the psychological value of doing physical work outdoors. It makes complete sense to me that mobility, fresh air, and sunlight promote more well-being than spreadsheets and indoor stagnation. I do not mean to talk poorly of my experience interning with a good company or of office jobs in general, as I know that there are office jobs out there that are very important and fulfilling. I just want to say that I believe people shouldn’t be disconnected from nature and that working with your whole body rather than just your mind is perhaps a better way to spend your life.
I’d like to say thank you one last time to Brooklyn Grange for opening up their farm to volunteers and for allowing me to have such a memorable experience. I learned so much and I will truly miss the farm as well as all the wonderful people I met there. Till next time, take care.