News from the Farm | January 23, 2023

At any given time, there are probably five or six interns living and working on the farm. Interns commit to at least a year working here and over the farm’s history there have been at least 300 interns. While here, they do a little bit of everything, and are key members of our farmers market teams. After they leave the farm, it really depends, but some of them do start farms of their own. This past week, I caught up with three former interns to find out what they’re up to.


Andrew Walker (photo on the left) was an intern from July 2020 through December 2021 – he even wrote the News from the farm in October and November 2021 about his intern experience. He and his twin brother Eric (on the right) have just wrapped up their first year running Farmboy Organics. Here’s their update:

We are in our second year growing a diverse variety of vegetables on five acres just outside of Winters and mainly selling our produce at the Davis Farmers Market. We also sell to the Davis Food Coop and two food hubs. It is really exciting to look back at our first year and see all the successes we had with crops, plus being able to support both of us working full-time on the farm! 

One of the most challenging parts of our first year was growing in the winter. With the cold temperatures we’ve had, crops grew slower than we expected we didn’t have the continuous supply we were hoping for.  We have lots of small changes for the upcoming year but the biggest one is getting a new seeder. It will help our direct seeding be more precise; each seed has enough space to grow and we aren’t wasting seed. 

Through Full Belly and our farming past we are fortunate to have built up a lot of connections in farming in the area that we can tap into including joining in on bulk orders of seed potatoes from Full Belly and seed garlic from Terra Firma Farm. 

This year we are really excited to learn more about how veggies grow on the land we are farming and continue to build community. 

You can see more of their farm by reading their farm notes (which you can get directly in your inbox via their weekly newsletter) and by following them on Instagram. 

Last week, I met Mike Appel and Emily Oakley of Three Springs Farm in Oaks, Oklahoma. They were interns at Full Belly from 2000 to 2001 and just finished their 20th season of farming. Here’s a condensed and edited version of my conversation with Mike with a few notes in brackets.

How did you get interested in farming and how did you end up at Full Belly? Emily grew up in Oklahoma and I’m from Long Island. We met in college where we were both studying Agricultural Development, which had a focus on international aid, which we eventually realized we didn’t want to do. We worked for a community garden organization after college, then applied to a few places and ended up at Full Belly. Emily was an intern for a year and then got her Masters degree at UC Davis. I worked at Full Belly for an additional year after my internship and then managed the CSA at Eatwell Farm in Dixon for a year. [note: Eatwell Farm was started by Andrew and Eric Walker’s parents!]

How did you end up in Oklahoma? We knew we wanted to start a farm, but land in California and New York was too expensive. Emily grew up in Oklahoma and had family there and land was going to be cheaper and there weren’t many people farming organically in Oklahoma so there wasn’t going to be much competition. We started farming in 2004 on 1.5 acres of former horse pasture that was on a slope and bad soil. It was the only thing we could find and we made it work but made a lot of mistakes and didn’t have the right equipment. We managed to make a profit the first year but our expenses were really low. We were there for three years, looking at other properties the whole time. We wanted land with decent soil, with water, that didn’t flood, and that we could afford. We probably looked at 150 different places and finally found a spot. It was 20 acres with an old house. We’re about an hour east of Tulsa, near the Arkansas border. West Oklahoma is really dry, but every 10 miles to the east gets an an additional inch of rain per year. We get about 50 inches per year, usually in major rain events.

Describe your farm and your business? We have four acres of cultivated ground but only farm on half of that each year; we try to plant on each spot every other year and have it in cover crop the other year. It’s just us farming, we don’t have employees. We used to do a weekly farmers market and CSA pickup in Tulsa. We had about 100 CSA members who prepaid and then they would get their produce by shopping at the market stand. We’d been starting to work on an app to streamline things when the pandemic hit. The farmers market shut down and we transitioned to just CSA, all through the app. The market has reopened but we haven’t gone back. We’ve surveyed our CSA members twice and almost everyone said that they preferred pickups. Our CSA runs from early April to Labor Day. CSA members place an order on our app between noon on Monday and noon on Thursday and then they come and pick it up at a church parking lot on Saturday morning [more details here].

What’s an accomplishment or milestone that you’re particularly proud of? Being able to buy the farm and achieving financial security. We are not in debt and the farm has been able to provide us with a good standard of living. And I’m proud of just being able to grow things! There’s nothing like the first tomato of the season. I’m really proud of how loyal our customers are – people that come back year after year. We see their kids grow up and we’re a part of their life; seeing their milestones and transitions has been really special. We learned how to make connections with our customers from working the farmers markets at Full Belly. We wouldn’t be farming without Full Belly. Our intern experience gave a great foundation of how to farm, from the practical skills like how to prepare ground, seed, cultivate, harvest, and do quality control, to the business aspect and record keeping. We were very lucky to find Full Belly.

What’s been a challenge recently, aside from the pandemic? The weather – I don’t know what to expect. Storms are getting crazier and springs are erratic. Months are switched and scrambled, especially in the spring. We almost didn’t have a tomato crop this year after a cool, wet spring rapidly switched to a hot, dry summer, and that was really stressful. 

What are you excited about? After years of talking about it, we’re finally starting to achieve more work/life balance. We’re not as young as we once were and need to take care of our bodies. And we want to spend more time with our daughter. We’re planting a little less (one less row of tomatoes) and are going to actually wrap up the day early enough to cook real food and eat together as a family.

You can see a bit of Three Springs Farm and hear from Mike and Emily directly in this video they made for the Real Organic Project a few years ago.

Thanks to Andrew, Eric, Emily, and Mike for sharing with us!

  • Elaine Swiedler, CSA Manager

*for an update on the rain situation, check out last week’s News from the Farm.