By Matt Gal
I’m having trouble deciding if magic is the right word to describe my time spent at the Grange Farm School. It’s the only word I know that can accurately sum up the overwhelmingly beautiful, educational, and improbable experiences that I had there. I’ll start by freely admitting that I had no notion of what I was getting myself into when I found GFS through a lucky google search. I had never farmed before. I had never lived in the country before. I had never been west of the Rockies before. What I knew was that I needed an internship credit for my horticulture degree and I wanted to see what agriculture was like. So, what better way to learn about farming than working to help start a farm school?
This assumption held true as I was exposed to an abundance of necessary farm skills. I fixed irrigation lines, drove a fuel-alcohol powered tractor, planted and harvested some of the best vegetables I’ve ever eaten, built and designed infrastructure, and raised chickens. This list could go on. Through observation and involvement, I also learned the many soft skills that I never knew I was lacking. Things like community building, relationship management, networking, and how organizations operate were all imparted to me. And then there is the sustainability component. Through the practicum student program, I came to view even the more mundane decisions of my day through a different lens and this has paid off immensely in my life off the farm. In addition to a number of small changes in lifestyle, I now keep a compost pile wherever I live which has led to interesting interactions with landlords as I try to explain the virtues of a properly built pile.
As I begin my final semester as a horticulture student, I now know that attending the Grange Farm School was the defining moment in my educational career; where I knew what I wanted to be doing with my life. I can say with pride that upon graduating from the University of Arkansas, I’ll be breaking ground on my own farm in my hometown of St. Louis, MO. I’m calling it 3c’s Farm for Community, Charity and continuity. My plan is for a small highly diversified organic vegetable operation focusing primarily on direct sales of salad mixes, tomatoes, herbs, and micro greens. This first summer I plan to use methods I learned from Ecology Action and GFS to double dig about 1/10 of an acre worth of beds, install drip tape, and build a roadside stand. The lessons learned at GFS now hold a place of prominence in my mind as I begin laying out designs, ordering seeds, and recruiting help from my community for this new project. I go into this endeavor with confidence knowing both the why and the how of sustainable agriculture thanks to the seeds now germinating in my psyche that were planted throughout the summer of 2014.