Fall 2017: Field Systems Coordinator Internship: Fostering Ecology for Plants & Students



by Graham Kaigle ‘18


            Anticipating the fall semester not only meant the start of senior year at St. Michael’s but also marked my second semester interning at the St. Michael’s Farm. Anxiety and eagerness were in no short supply as the first day of classes approached, and I could not wait to begin working on the farm again. I had spent the previous summer working at Trillium Hill Farm in Hinesburg, VT where I learned, worked and enjoyed every day spent with my hands in the soil. Working at Trillium was an opportunity presented to me because of the connections and networks our Farm works hard to facilitate in the larger community. Once back at the college farm, I realized how much my agricultural knowledge had grown and how constantly expanding that knowledge basis was on and off farm. All the days I had spent working at St. Mike’s and Trillium Hill began to converge as I kicked off my work for this fall semester; showing me the intense connection between my education and future career path.

   Organic vegetable and 100% grass-fed beef farm located in Hinesburg, VT.
Over the course of my internship I have been working on creating a diversified, holistic approach to promoting a healthy orchard ecosystem on farms, and more specifically on the St. Michael’s Farm. This project has drawn on knowledge and skills that I have learned both on and off farm, which acted as a guide for my work. Creating an Orchard Health Management plan was not an easy task during my first semester.  However, as I dove deeper into sustainable agriculture and holistic orcharding I began to realize certain fundamental aspects of ecosystem diversity play a key role in maintaining ecosystem health on any farm. I took a new approach to creating a holistic, symbiotic, community in the orchard where management was not the sole focus of a healthy orchard ecosystem. With this new approach came the creation of a companion plant chart, which outlined the importance of having multifunctional companion plants in the orchard.



Plant Name
Ecological Purpose
Educational Purpose
Value-Added Purpose

Comfrey

  • Nitrogen fixing
  • Attracts pollinators
  • Increase OM when mowed
  • Perennial

  • Multifunctionality of companion plants
  • Introduces students to plants often considered to be weeds

  • Increases fruit trees capacity to uptake nutrients therefore promoting higher, more nutrient dense fruit yields

Dandelion

  • Nutrient mining
  • Nitrogen fixing
  • Pollinator forage
  • Native perennial

  • Dandelions increase diversity
  • Serve multifunctional purpose in nutrient management
  • Why do we eradicate these plants from our gardens?

  • Boosts ecological immunity of orchard system-less susceptibility of fruit loss
  • Flowers can be sold
  • Dandelion greens!
  • Medicinal uses-appetite loss, kidney or liver issues

Daffodils & Tulips

  • Pest management
  • Soil aeration
  • Pollinator forage in Spring

  • Importance of biodiversity
  • Daffodils poisonous to voles, tulips not-educational opportunity to show ecological impacts of biodiversity

  • Sold as high value flowers
  • Require little inputs-increase profits
  • Early source of income for farm

Mountain Mint

  • Olfactory sense disruptor for pests
  • Pollinator forage
  • Perennial

  • Introduction of Orchard Kitchen Garden
  • Edible plants can serve as highly beneficial companion plants

  • Raw mint can be sold to diversity of eateries
  • Low input, high yielding crop
  • Perennially yielding

Chives

  • Pollinator forage
  • Pest prevention-aromatic scent
  • perennial

  • Orchard Kitchen Garden-diversity, without sacrificing multifunctionality
  • Ecological multifunctionality of perennial herb

  • Sell to Sodexo-other eateries interested in buying our crops
  • Add to tomato sauces, salsa verde etc.

Companion Planting Chart designed to promote biological diversity and value-added crops on farm.



This was a major aspect of my internship where I learned that knowledge and understanding are constantly being adapted on farms. There is no set way of doing one thing on a farm, and especially on a beyond organic sustainable farm diversity and adaptation are fundamental to ecosystem health. However, the more I went over my companion plant chart it became apparent to me what I actually gained from this experience. The chart and internship were points in my education where I was able to grow, learn and adapt my knowledge, but I was not the only one who could gain from these experiences. By adding companion plants to the orchard it was another point through which the farm could grow, ecologically, but as an academic resource as well. Dandelions, for example, were a companion plant on the list I previously mentioned. Students have the opportunity to learn about the ecological importance of dandelions, Nitrogen fixers, as well as a potential enterprise opportunity.

A snapshot of budding apple and peach blossoms this past spring on the farm!


Through that chart I saw an opportunity for other students to not only adapt their knowledge base, but where the St. Michael’s farm had created a space not meant for those only interested in agriculture. This farm facilitates an environment rooted in building community relationships, and engagement, where students are encouraged to get their hands dirty in the soil no matter where their skillsets or knowledge base.



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