News from the Farm | May 9, 2022

Hi Full Belly Family,

My name is Alexa and I’m a part of the current crop of interns at the farm. I am writing to you on a week that feels oddly ceremonious for me; one year ago, I laced up my boots, put on a new pair of Carhartt pants, and started my first official farm internship at a small organic farm outside of D.C. After 5 years spent working in the healthcare and software industry in Chicago, I had decided I wanted something different for myself. While the decision about what exactly I wanted didn’t come quick or easy, you could say that peppers are the reason I decided to take a leap of faith to leave one life and start another. Let me explain…

My relationship with food starts with the bell pepper. Some of my earliest memories are sitting in a highchair, eating strips of its crisp, juicy, and bright red flesh. Throughout my life, it was in every salad, baked and stuffed with a rice mixture beckoning flavors from a long-forgotten Greek village, and charred on the grill then soaked in a pool of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Beyond the plate, peppers were an ever-present fixture in our household. First, they appeared in boxes in the garage; then they were moved to gallon plastic bags where the red, yellow, and orange fruits took up residency in our refrigerator as they waited to be distributed to eager friends, family, and neighbors. Once I moved to the Midwest, a box of peppers arriving in the depths of winter provided both the sunshine and Vitamin C I needed to keep my serotonin levels in check.

The special purveyor of these bell peppers is my father, who has spent the past 27 years of his career developing varieties of sweet and green bell peppers.

This very close relationship to peppers also taught me that what we eat is inseparable from how it is grown and how it reaches our tables. I developed a deep-rooted understanding that behind just about everything we eat, there is a passionate breeder and farmer that has spent years obsessing over the shape, texture, and taste to make sure the fruit or vegetable meets our standards.

About seven years ago while I was still in college (and much more concerned with landing a corporate job in the city), I was traveling through California at the same time my dad was working in Woodland and I decided to stop by to check out some of his peppers. While I was there, I spent the whole day walking through the fields and talking with other breeders about their varieties. I met a cantaloupe breeder that aimed to make his product the star of the fruit salad and a hot pepper breeder who attracted adoring fans of food bloggers. I remember looking around and thinking “I want to do this more.”

My dad once told me that his uncle, a farmer in upstate New York, would always bring a yellow crate of fruit when he visited. He described both the excitement every time he saw that yellow crate and the joy his uncle had to gift the sun-ripened grapes and peaches. The feeling I had out in those fields brought me back to the joy of seeing my dad bring home a box of peppers and biting into one of the fruits straight from the field. I knew then that agriculture would somehow make its way into my life.

As I sat in my apartment in Chicago, in between endless Zoom meetings and listening to my upstairs neighbors argue for the 100th time, I realized that feeding people has always made me really happy. I decided that I too wanted to feel the joy of proudly offering the fruits of my labor to friends and family. (I also realized that I no longer wanted to live in a 500-square foot apartment surrounded by other people and concrete, but that’s just a side detail!!)

After my first summer farming on the East Coast, all signs pointed to California and in February 2022 I started my internship at Full Belly Farm.

To no surprise, working at farmers markets has become one of my favorite jobs as an intern and I love interacting with many of our customers every Tuesday at the Berkeley Farmers Market. Answering questions about differences in flavor and textures, swapping recipes, and hearing your love for our broccoli, spinach or potatoes is my favorite part of the week.

It also feels fitting that I now live not too far away from that field in Woodland where I first realized that growing, talking about and sharing food is incredibly important to me and would somehow, someway be a part of my life.

I am also excited to report that I now call a field of tomatoes, a cherry picker and a rose bush my neighbors and I have never been happier.

Alexa McCarthy