Zsuzsa Mitro and the Willing Hands Garden

So many of our amazing staff start out as volunteers who were attracted to what we do and just want to get involved. Zsuzsa Mitro came to the farm in the fall of 2011 looking to help out as a volunteer with winter chores on the farm. She spent lots of time that winter meticulously sorting beans and being generally helpful to everyone. We are pleased that she has been with us ever since, except that we now pay her for her excellent services in helping to grow high quality organic food for our friends and neighbors in the Willing Hands Garden located behind the blueberry patch. Zsuzsa prepared this short essay about her experience working with Willing Hands on the farm.

I had a remarkable year at Cedar Circle Farm as an intern, and volunteer coordinator for the Willing Hands local food charity. I had a one-acre garden to plant with seasonal organic vegetables. I had an interest to learn about everything from soil fertilization, to reading seed charts, planning irrigation, working farm machinery, grafting tomatoes, identifying Zinc deficiency in sweet corn… And I had the joy of working with a group of highly knowledgeable, friendly and committed people. As soon as I say this, my story as a first-person-singular experience ends: to voice the real value of what WE have learned.

Farming is never a solitary endeavor. One important lesson to take away is that constantly asking questions, checking and comparing facts, and sharing information is absolutely essential when one is out in the field. It will not necessarily guarantee success; but it is indispensable for building knowledge that may not have been available before.

Let me give an example: I knew hardly anything about irrigation and it was an intimidating task, at first. My Hungarian grandmother used to use a rainwater system that I had vague memories about. But the scale between her kitchen garden and my one-acre land was also different. And since my childhood, the climate has also changed. To make sure we did not lose a significant amount of our crops during a very dry summer here in New England, we had to water regularly. Did the Willing Hands team do a good job? Yes, with the system that we had in place, we did. And we still lost a significant amount of our crops. Instead of matching the number of last year’s production, we came 1,100 pounds short.

Next year, we already know, will be better because of all that we learned, together, about irrigation this past season. We do not expect the weather to be in our favor. We will, however, be prepared with a better, smarter system that takes advantage of the Connecticut River defining the easternmost boundary of our garden. Willing Hands is doing tremendously important work in addressing the food insecurity of underserved neighbors in our local communities. In collaboration with Cedar Circle Farm, we are also building a knowledge base that encourages learning and sharing for the benefit of many.

At the end of the 2012 season, I do want to truly thank both Cedar Circle Farm and Willing Hands for giving me the chance to grow fresh, local food. Every time the van came to pick up our harvest, a part of many of us went with it to our neighbors’ tables, imagining that they could perhaps taste the difference of our effort in their meals. We always hoped that the difference could be best described as ‘delicious!’.

—Zsuzsa Mitro

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