Left to Right: Katie Kilpatrick '13,
Jessica Sturges '13 and Haley Hixson '12CONWAY, Ark. (February 27, 2012) - Three Hendrix students are learning about life on the farm through an internship with Rattle's Garden, a flower and vegetable farm outside of Vilonia, Ark.
The student interns are:
- Katie Kilpatrick '13, an environmental studies major from Fort Smith, Ark.
- Jessica Sturges '13, an environmental studies major from Gravette. Ark.
- Haley Hixson '12, an accounting major from Magnolia, Ark.
"I'm very interested in organic farming, and I am considering becoming a farmer," said Kilpatrick. "When I found out about this opportunity, I was ecstatic."
This semester, the students have helped sow seeds in the greenhouse and transplant seedlings for owner Tara Stainton, an Iowa native who moved to Arkansas in 2000.
Stainton and her husband started growing their own vegetables in 2005. In 2008, they started selling vegetables through Conway Locally Grown, which was started by Hendrix alumnus Cody Hopkins, a 2001 graduate. The couple kept jobs off the farm at the time, but farming became Tara's full-time occupation in 2010 when Staintons started a family.
The soon-to-be-certified organic operation now sells flowers and vegetables at the Argenta Farmers Market in North Little Rock, the Hillcrest Farmers Market in Little Rock and through three online farmers markets, including Conway Locally Grown, the Arkansas Sustainability Network and Farm2Work.
Working with Stainton offers a glimpse into the amount of work required to grow food and flowers from seed to market, Kilpatrick said.
"I'd never thought about how much time and care goes into mass-producing vegetables in an organic setting," she said. "The hours are long and the weather can be extreme, but in the end, feeling like you've made a difference in the way people eat is definitely worth it."
The growing process isn't the only the thing the students are learning. Stainton has also involved student interns in the organic certification process.
"We learned about the pros and cons of getting organic certification, which is something that most people don't think about," said Hixson. "Many times, a garden may qualify in most people's minds as organic, as in it's free from unsustainable intensive farming, does not use petroleum-based fertilizers, etc., but the owner may not want to certify due to the arbitrary nature of governmental rules. This is why it is important to ask farmers at the market about their practices."
The students have also toured two other organic farms and attended food co-op meetings with multiple farmers, said Sturges.
"It's showing me how important community and community organizing are to everything," said Sturges. "Farmers have a little bit of competition and differences of opinion, but they learn from each other and help each other when needed … there is a collective knowledge to draw from so that there is always someone you can learn from or teach to."
The internship connects with a lot of her classes at Hendrix, Kilpatrick said.
"Right now I'm in Environmental Economics, and while we're mostly talking about emissions right now, it also makes me think about how a small farmer can afford to make a living off such a difficult career, especially with this crazy weather this year," she said. "I'm using a lot of my biology courses. Things like botany and genetics are helping me think about how plants have been synthesized in our culture with GMOs being so prevalent. Tara doesn't buy from companies like Monsanto and for that I am very happy."
Hixson agreed. Her business and accounting classes are as useful as agriculture when it comes to owning and operating a farm, she said.
"Most of what I've learned is business-related … I think it will directly apply to the economics of owning a farm," said Hixson. "Being able to set up a budget, navigate my own taxes, and make sound capital choices will help me in the long run."
Farming brings together many skills, Sturges said.
"Farming is not just about pushing some seeds into the soil and then picking the fruit a couple months later," she said. "Every decision we make is influenced by our understanding of how systems work … Farming is the combination of the science of pest control and crop rotation, the business of making enough of a profit to keep farming, the ethics of producing healthy food that means healthier people, the politics of how easy and legal it is to sell organic produce, and how local, state, and national policies affect your business practices."
This is the second year of the internship partnership with Rattles Garden, according to Leigh Lassiter-Counts, associate director of career services and internship coordinator at Hendrix. Stainton had one intern in spring 2011 and two during the summer.
"My experience with Hendrix interns has been excellent," said Stainton. "I love the energy and enthusiasm they bring to the farm."
"Taking on interns during the summer is not unusual for a farm this size," she said, adding that it seems to be a trend among small sustainable farms. "We are fortunate to be in a location that allows for us to take on interns throughout the school year as well."
In fact, she is somewhat envious of the students' opportunity to learn the business. Stainton's background includes two degrees in education.
"I had no farming experience or education when I started this," she said. "I tell every one of my interns that, if I could start over, the first thing I would do is intern for someone who had been doing this and learn from their mistakes rather than from my own."
Stainton grows everything from bok choy and broccoli to cabbage and cauliflower … and lots of flowers.
She also feels strongly about growing the next generation of small farmers.
"We need more farmers and we need more educated consumers," she said. "I feel like it is my responsibility to not only to educate my customers and help them make informed food choices but also to help educate the next generation of farmers."
Sustainable farming is often romanticized in the media, she said. The fact is it is really hard work that often requires a fair amount of capital and always requires a large amount of effort to start up.
"I want students interested in farming to see what it takes realistically to make a small farm work," said Stainton. "I hope they take away fundamental gardening skills involved in growing vegetables from seed to harvest. I also hope they understand the business aspect of why decisions are made on the farm. I hope to pass on a passion for growing vegetables with a dose of reality."
For more information on Rattles Garden, visit www.rattlesgarden.com.
Founded in 1876, Hendrix College is a national leader in engaged liberal arts and sciences education. Hendrix was named the country's #1 "Up and Coming" liberal arts college for the third consecutive year by U.S. News and World Report. Hendrix is featured in the 2011 edition of the Princeton Review as one of the country's best 376 colleges and is listed in the 2012 edition of the Fiske Guide to Colleges as one of 25 "Best Buy" private colleges included. Hendrix has been affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884. For more information, visit www.hendrix.edu.