On Learning and Getting Things Done

By Jenna Barufka
 My entire experience at Arcadia will be encapsulated in a sum total of seven days. This seems impossible to me, considering that I feel overwhelmed with new information. I went into my internship with Arcadia completely blind. I had barely even gardened before. In retrospect, I have no idea what I thought farming was going to be like. I suppose I thought it would be simpler. I thought there would be fewer pieces to consider. Having spent the past twelve years of my life in school, I expected a similarly regimented process of learning and getting things done; be told the facts and apply them, be told rules and follow them. But farming is filled with an uncertainty I’ve never really had to deal with before. We have things we know to be true, of course, about the plants and the insects that eat them and the weeds that grow by them. But we also have a million things that we can only guess at, like how much it will rain and when, and whether or not we’ll be able to stop mice from eating our seeds. Farming is predicting, observing, compensating, waiting, hoping.

The more I learn about farming, however, the more it becomes incredibly clear to me that I know nothing about farming. Each time we embark on a new task, Katherine explains to me and the other volunteers what we are doing and why. I feel as though there must be always one millions things flying through her head. The other day, as she explained how to transplant squash seedlings into landscape fabric, she told us that “they don’t like the fabric worrying against their stems.” Perhaps this is common sense to some people, but it is something I would have never, never thought about. In fact, to even consider that there is a certain way the stems of golden glory squash like to be treated is so far from my average train of thought that it, despite seeming so simple, feels revolutionary. I’m not getting my questions answered, I’m being informed that there were questions to have in the first place. It’s not, Oh, I’ve always wondering what the stems of plants felt about rubbing against landscape fabric, it’s, The stems of plants care if they touch landscape fabric? And what’s landscape fabric? I feel as though all my life I have just assumed that certain things are as simple as they seem; seeds fall, plants grow, etc. Now I am unlearning.

In fact, a large part of my experience at Arcadia has been unlearning. There are some things you have to unlearn if you want to be of any use at all. Unlearn a fear of bugs. Unlearn hesitancy to get dirty. Unlearn infrequent water drinking. In the best way possible, seven days at Arcadia has been a process of forgetting; forgetting the simple way I thought about farming, forgetting the limited way I thought about learning, forgetting the structured way I thought about working and getting things done. It’s been a satisfying personal experience, not only because it allowed me to meet a lot of interesting people and doing rewarding work, but also because it gave me a foundational understanding of something I had no concept of before. It’s only a beginning, but I at least now have somewhere to begin. And, if nothing else, I have gained an incredible, incredible amount of respect for good food and good people who work in the heat.