Musings of an Intern

First Week Impressions

I arrived on Manitoulin Island bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Shane picked me up and told me about the lay of the land. He took me through Little Current and showed me the learning center where he works as a tutor/mentor.

Once Shane opens his mouth you can tell that he is wicked smart. He was the first person to ask me about my interests and to try to understand why I was interested in them and I though no one would ever ask. It was no surprise that everyone on the farm was as passionate and curious about their own subjects as Shane is with his.

Upon arriving at the farm I was greeted first with the solar field, a disheveled barn sporting huge solar panels overlooking a large garden. I later learned that it housed a few turkey vultures too. After the solar field there is a beautiful and bright house with a green roof. Veronica stays there and comes by to visit. She checks out the sunsets from the farm property, which are beautiful.

Not exactly a sunset, I know.

Finally, the farm house is down a long driveway, hidden away from the highway outside Little Current. It has a red door, many cars and carpentry projects around it. The house belongs to the Tilson family who run the farm and a sizeable amount of side projects/organizations. Their output and work ethic are prolific.

After meeting all the interns, workaways, and visitors I am shown my tent where I will be staying all summer. While here I am encouraged to do my passion projects while doing duties such as tending the chickens, doing dishes, cooking, and cleaning. I am also allowed to participate in the many projects that are ongoing on and off the farm. For instance, the group here is launching a local community garden, which I will get to help build. On the second day I learned how to wire a solar panel and helped construct it. Since I have much less expertise than passion I’ve spent a lot of time learning. Fortunately, the environment is perfect for learning anything about permaculture, since everyone around me has a general understanding and their own specializations to boot.

The Manitoulin Permaculture farm is part of a growing network of farmers who are trying to do farming in a more holistic way. We have connections with local legends like Ed Burt, and have contacts participating in the new wave of biodynamic farming.

The biggest change for me, one that I had been meaning to get to, was waking up early. My tent is right beside the chicken coop, so the first morning was quite a shock as I tried to fall asleep to the sound of roosters. I got used to it pretty quickly. I also find that I get tired around night time, since I spend so little time on a computer and much time doing work/studying. My sleep schedule is finally back on track. I am having more vivid dreams too.

Since this is my first time on a farm I got to experience the pleasures of weeding and sowing seeds. I discovered that twitch grass is the plant version of evil, and recently learned that as it decomposes it becomes toxic to other plants. If you don’t already know about it look it up and you’ll see. Here is a great article on the topic One surprising experience, though small, is the feeling of roots in the ground as you dig them up. Picking dandelions is especially odd, since the tops are so unassuming, but the bottom is very large. I felt like I was lifting a complex alien life-form out of the ground.

Bugs are another alien life-form you’ll meet out here. Although you’ll meet several new fellows, it’s the familiar ones that will get you. The farm is situated in a windy area, so the wind repels most flies and mosquitoes, however, I wouldn’t recommend anyone take them lightly. I was bitten the other day and came down with a fever, so now I am sporting my ‘bug suit’ no matter how silly I look. Thanks Mom!

Nature can be kind of strange. There are many animals out here that are not under the purview of the farm. This morning I caught a chipmunk who had managed to open a banana and start eating it. As we get smarter, they get smarter. No more bananas outside of the fridge! One day a fish swam sideways up to our boat and offered itself to us. It was pregnant, so we harvested its eggs and cooked the rest for dinner. Talk about natural and local.

The food here is delicious. I feel like I live out of the extreme version of a whole foods store. When I was sick Jaime cooked up a stinging nettle and willow bark tea and it made me feel much better. Every night one of us cooks dinner for the group. The main interns here are all great cooks. This week we have had a French couple staying with us who have cooked amazing meals and desserts. They made caramel apple pie for us. Yum! I plan to make mac and cheese the way momma taught me.

It seems we will have many new faces come and go throughout the season. We recently housed three Buddhist monks who came for a visit. It was nice to have them teach us about Buddhism. I don’t know how they meditated outside!

My impressions over the first week have been that I am in a hard-working and disciplined group, like a mini-military operation, who combine healthy living and a strong sense of community to accomplish their tasks. Many people here run their own businesses on the side, and the environment is geared to unleash creativity. I feel like there is nothing in my lifestyle preventing me from achieving my self-improvement goals, and many people here foster me as I try to achieve them. By the way, the fitness program here is incredible. All in all I feel superhuman!


Matt Zucca

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