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What Got Me into Farming -- by Wendy Feng (student intern)

“During the many farm shifts that followed this semester, I felt like I was gradually discovering my true self. I get sprayed with water all the time while repairing an irrigation hose, but being there with my wet and awkward hair is the real me. I've even started to love rainy days for the rain spreads the relaxing faint scent of cypress trees. I don't mind stepping in the mud because having dirt on my shoes is the real me. I also love strolling in the monarch field, with geese flying in the sky, butterflies chasing between flowers; I cut one or two aromatic and bright cosmos or Mexican sunflowers to place in my vase – those moments always light up my days.”


a collage of images that include harvested food, a ladybug on a branch, harvested orange calendula flowers, and greenery
Photo collage by Wendy Feng

"There's no way you are paying $60,000 tuition per year to cross the Pacific Ocean just to learn farming!" This sentiment comes from my grandma, who has been a farmer all her life. From her perspective, it’s such a waste of my educational opportunities she never even dreamed about at my age as well as my talents. My grandma worked day and night so that her children could pursue professions she believes have a 'higher social status' and involve less 'hardship.' It’s inexplicable to her that I want to return to farming. It’s probably inexplicable to many people what drew me to the field of agriculture, even to myself. But if there must be an answer to that question, I want to attribute it to heritage. 


I haven't always been proud of my farmer's heritage; instead, I used to hide it. During middle school, when my teacher asked us to share what our grandparents did for a living, I hesitated to reveal that my grandparents were farmers. The contrast with the seemingly 'decent' and respected occupations like businessmen, professors, and government workers mentioned by my classmates made me reluctant to embrace my agricultural roots. I may manage to conceal my farmer’s heritage from others, but I can’t deny myself the genuine joy that farming brings. Witnessing a seed I planted gradually sprout, grow leaves, blossom, and bear fruit always evokes a sense of pure satisfaction and fulfillment that I can find nowhere else but only in the field. This feeling isn’t fueled by ego or external influences; rather, it arises from a natural, inherent affection. I think the farmer was my hidden personality during the time when I was just another good girl going with the flow and following what everyone expected of me.


I guess the transition from high school to college not only signifies access to more advanced knowledge but also a maturation of thoughts. The clarity of my true pursuit and identity became more and more pronounced. I admit that my initial intention in applying for this internship was tentative and purely instinct driven. But I was very lucky to be accepted. I still remember the Sunday I first set foot on the farm; I instantly fell in love with this place. ​​Whether sitting in the children's garden surrounded by trees, vegetables, butterflies, ants, and bees, or strolling through rows of fields with Kristida handing me a beautiful sunflower, I experienced an unparalleled sense of relaxation and happiness. During the many farm shifts that followed this semester, I felt like I was gradually discovering my true self. I may not even enjoy sitting in a brightly lit skyscraper in neat business casual attire because that wouldn’t be the authentic me. It’s always exhausting to weed and remove biomass, but holding the heavy shovel is the real me. I get sprayed with water all the time while repairing an irrigation hose, but being there with my wet and awkward hair is the real me. I've even started to love rainy days for the rain spreads the relaxing faint scent of cypress trees. I don't mind stepping in the mud because having dirt on my shoes is the real me. I also love strolling in the monarch field, with geese flying in the sky, butterflies chasing between flowers; I cut one or two aromatic and bright cosmos or Mexican sunflowers to place in my vase – those moments light up my days. 


I think my time on the farm brought me back to my very primal joy – the freedom I felt as a child running through the rice paddies of my grandma's village or the relaxation I experienced sitting in the reeds by the pool on a warm twilight day, watching the sun go down. It was as if time had been slowed down on the farm and I began to notice things around me that I often overlooked. I started paying attention to how a butterfly's wings vibrate, how an earthworm wriggles in the dirt, how a beetle shrinks its body into a ball when stimulated, and, more importantly, I began to not only notice but also feel more intensely than ever before, the kindness of people. I have met a lot of people here, on the farm or during farmstand – elders, children, students like myself, naturalists, and those temporarily experiencing a difficult period in their lives. Everyone comes from very different backgrounds, does different jobs, and has their unique stories and experiences, but they all share the same warmth, patience, kindness, and gratitude. When Paul said that we all have the one identity as farmers and when I saw medicinal herbs on the farm that I thought I could only find in my hometown, labeled with their Chinese names, I felt a sense of belonging that was so hard for me to find in this foreign land as an international student. I believe that's what makes agriculture and food so special to me and to everyone on the farm—it connects humans with nature and with each other. 


I aspire to bring a sense of belonging and cultural awareness to everyone in the community who may be experiencing situations similar to mine. This aligns with the mission of our culturally relevant food team. We all believe that food and farming provide the best way to connect people and cultures for they are very integral parts of every culture and essential components in shaping an individual's identity and experiences. 


I don't consider being a farmer as a waste of my educational opportunities and talents. Given the positive impacts I can have on the community and the environment, the significance of agriculture in culture and its role in addressing present social issues, and the empowerment it provides me to be a truly unique and sparkling individual, I believe it's the most rewarding thing I can do.


Written by Wendy Feng, student intern at Gill Tract Farm

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