News From the Farm | February 25, 2019

Almond Festival wood-fired pizza at the Rumsey Hall last Sunday –

I’ve been an intern at Full Belly for over one Full Belly year. Today I’m going to take this opportunity to share with you a sneak peek into what it means to be an intern at this very unique place, as I reflect on my experience and what I’ve learned.

First I’ll begin with some numbers. In my time here as an intern I’ve seen, met, lived with and/or been a part of:

  • 4 (or 5?) litters of piglets
  • ~200 baby lambs (and like 17 “bummer” lambs – the ones that we have to feed…)
  • 11 different interns
  • 1 wildfire right across the street
  • >45 new fruits and vegetables I either learned about the existence of or tried for the first time
  • 0 melons dropped (including both in-the-field harvest tosses and off-the-truck market tosses)
  • >50 farmers markets (including at least 30 with one of our fearless leaders, none other than Andrew Brait, which totals to roughly 150 hours together in the market truck)
  • 1 time defeating Paul and Rye in a doubles volleyball match (my greatest performance on the court to date)

Yes, I know what you’re thinking: That’s a lot of hours with Andrew Brait. That’s almost a whole week together in the cab of that market truck. In that time I’ve shared my ‘life story’ with Andrew many times over. During a phase when I decided I was a huge fan of the Blues, Andrew once DJ-ed the entire ride back from Marin while I was driving, giving me his own personal off-road tour of the music genre. None of the world’s problems were exactly solved during these trips, but we made some serious headway. Every once in a while I would be able to sneak in a few “winks,” as Andrew calls it, and get a little sleep in those early hours before market. The truck ride aside, I was lucky enough to work the Thursday market in San Rafael almost every week with Andrew and the gang since April or so. It honestly has been one of my most cherished experiences working at Full Belly (Saturday market friends and family, please do not take this too personally.) I’ve built a really special community going each week and sharing our hard work with loyal customers and friends. Feeling the energy and appreciation from all of you every week really makes all that hard work we do up here in Guinda worth it.

Sydney, me and Siew Keng at Thursday market with a huge marvel stripe tomato

In general, community and teamwork are two of the themes I’ve come to most appreciate here. Last summer, when the farm was really in full force I was able to truly see those two set in motion in their fullest expressions. At the peak of the summer, we have a team here of over 100 people working together towards a goal way bigger than any individual. I honestly do not think I ever really sincerely experienced teamwork like this before. All of us working from sunrise to sunset, harvesting, cleaning, packing, loading and delivering the produce; caring for all of our animals including feeding, cleaning and various forms of harvesting. This farm is a really impressive business, and the coordination of all these moving parts is quite a thing to be a part of. Just being around so many hard working people (like seriously hard working people, it’s honestly crazy) in one place has been pretty inspirational.

It’s certainly not at all easy and this rosy picture I painted is real, but it’s only a part, and I’m in reflection mode, so it’s easy to romanticize during bouts with nostalgia. I’m most definitely not always feeling that inspiration I just talked about. Frankly, farming is just really difficult. And working on such a large dynamic team can get really frustrating sometimes. Things get lost in communication, sometimes you have a bad day, sometimes you have a bad month, it gets really, really hot here, sometimes you think you have an idea of how things should go, but someone else has a very different idea of how things are actually going to go. And through those challenging moments I’ve learned a lot about myself. Again, it’s easier to claim you’ve learned a lesson in reflection mode than it is during that actual moment of frustration, but nonetheless I’ve seen a lot of personal growth here.

During all of those rocky moments I have been fortunate enough to have a community of friends here to support me at every bump. There are some really great people on the farm and in the valley and I cannot thank them all enough for their patience and friendship over this past year. Another on the list of my favorite experiences has been the weekly yoga class I teach for the local community down the road at the Rumsey Hall (shameless [well, there’s a little bit of shame] plug… contact me directly for more info). It has been such a blessing to have the opportunity to share something I love with the people here in this special corner of the world and to receive such loving feedback from people I might otherwise have never had the chance to get to know on such an intimate level.

Okay, a few more miscellaneous things I’ve learned as an intern: I actually love cows! Go figure. As a student who focused primarily on environmental studies in college, I was more or less taught that cows are basically environmental disasters that should more or less be done away with. But they are such sweethearts. Well not all of them, I guess, but my best animal friend on the farm is named Croissant, who I’ve know since his birth, and he is just such a great pal. Furthermore, milking is up there with my favorite activities to do on the farm, and one of my most lasting takeaways from this experience will certainly be that fresh cow’s milk is worth owning a cow. Moving on from cows, I’ve also learned: It is possible to eat a pint of ascolano olives and an entire carrot tea cake in one sitting; I’m really good at karaoke (a Muller family party essential); and more Spanish idioms than could possibly be put to good use (thanks, Antonio).

This is Croissant

I’ll wrap it up with a ‘what’s next for Ben the intern’ rundown. I still have just over a month left at Full Belly. I have just officially been accepted to the 6-month farm apprenticeship at Green Gulch near Muir Beach. There, in addition to farming on their 7 or so acres of organic vegetables during the day, I will follow a daily schedule including meditation and other Zen Buddhist practices. Full Belly has been my first experience working on a farm. I’m not sure I want to be a farmer forever, but I think farming is a really important part of being human. I have a belly full of gratitude for my formative farming experience at Full Belly and I’m excited to work another season at another extremely unique place.

–Ben Culver