Tuesday, August 13, 2013

First SCRANCH Intern: Eleni's Visit

Eleni harvesting shallots
This past week was a big one for me on so many levels and top of that list was the welcoming of Eleni Liberty Jacobson, my very first SCRANCH intern. Though she is safely back home in the Bay Area, I am still stunned and unbelievably flattered by her desire to visit my wee farm so very far from everything she knows about America.

Her very own grain bin perch!
Just two months shy of 19, Eleni is wise beyond her years. Blessed with an insatiable curiosity and mad articulation skills, she is obviously the product of a loving home that appreciates and encourages intelligent conversation and sharp wit. In discussions about food and farming, love and life, I kept thinking she was much older but then I'd remember, 'Oh wait, that's ME.'

Kick-ass Parental Units, Jake and Val
This is the part where I brag about her parents - my dear friend, Val (she of last summer's Skype ukulele jam sessions) and her father, Jake (also goes by David), a fellow writer and sports lover; both are exceptional beings, among my favorites. When I stay at their home during my NorCal visit, it's like going to an Emotional Spa where my soul gets a scrub down to a healthy glow.

In the surrey
Honestly, I was anxious about Eleni's visit. Not nervous really, but I was a bit worried about the quality of her time here. Sure, there's plenty of work to do but this was my big chance to shape the mind of a bright young woman on all things food, farm and North Dakota, I didn't want to blow it. Most of all, I didn't want Eleni to be bored.

In the end, I need not have worried so much. Eleni is an easygoing soul, polite and thoughtful, respectful and sunny. Early in her visit, I wrung my hands over a lunch at Applebee's (a reluctant decision made of time and convenience) when she made the accommodating comment, "It's okay. I'm here to be here."  (I love this philosophy so much, I may need a t-shirt for it.) And, as a child of the Bay Area, she had never, ever visited an Applebee's, something that my friend, Wayne, found impossible. 

Digging up the garlic
(Mind you, Eleni's wise statement was made before she saw 'Oriental Chicken Salad' on the Applebee's menu. "What?!?" she said, incredulous. "They still use the word 'Oriental'??" I had to stop and explain that we were both, in fact, California-raised Bay Area snobs, politically-correct to the nth degree and there was nothing to be done about it. Poor thing, she was as shocked as I was. )

With Wood Chip Marge
Point being, Eleni is a born traveler - she knows how to keep her knees bent, her mind nimble and her expectations adjusted. Whining just isn't part of her behavioral make-up. Every request I made of her was met with enthusiasm, every place I took her brought delight and every person she met was visibly charmed. If you ever get a chance to hire this sharp young lady, I recommend that you do so, immediately.

Some highlights:

Girls on Ice -We tagged along with Wayne to see his granddaughters play at their hockey camp in Minnesota. Eleni was only in the car 10 minutes before we dragged her to another state, much to her surprise. It was fun to watch young girls skate around like the pros. Eleni and I both agreed that we would be terrible at this.

Nora takes a shot
Fargo VA Medical Center - Accompanying Wayne, Eleni and I were fascinated by the facility which was like a military museum inside a hospital. Also, the tax-free, super-discounted gift shop.

Private Jacobson, reporting for duty
Fargo Air Museum - We visited on a whim and what a delight! We weren't 5 minutes in the door when a former soldier had Eleni suited up for duty. We also got inside a B-17, which was incredible, and Eleni bought a souvenir sweatshirt, which she wore all week. She talked a lot about her late grandpa, a former tail gunner named Dick Liberty, which was pretty darn cool.

With the tail gunner
Props to Eleni!
Corn Smut - First order of farm biz, I had her harvest the corn smut so could fry 'er up!

Mmmm! Down home fungii burritos!
Solar Oven - We 'cooked' up some squash and taters but alas, it was a chilly, cloudy week so the experiment took 2-3 days. We're overdue for some warm weather this week so I'll give it another go.

Shallot and Garlic Harvest - I had Eleni pull up some shallots and we took turns harvesting the first of the garlic. It was nice to have someone there when I saw the first bulb - I squealed and kissed it. When I last saw Eleni, she was waving at me from the other side of airport security, and still holding two long souvenir garlic stalks/bulbs.

The first of my babies!
A proud mama
SCRANCH Bonfire - Boy, was this a good idea! Brent worked the burger grill while Wayne roasted hot dogs and we burned wood from the bush. I made a couple of salads plus some homemade vanilla bean ice cream (with raspberries picked by Wayne) - a feast! Then, we toasted marshmallows and looked at the stars - the night sky is so vibrant here without any light pollution. It was a beautiful night to remember.

Farmer's Market - Every Thursday, I stress out over this tiny event so it was great to have Eleni's help. Customer-wise, there was a strong turnout and I sold out the remainder of my lettuce in the first five minutes. I sold out my green beans and peas too. Also, Eleni got to meet my cousins, Walter and Eileen Millar.

Walter, Eleni and Eileen
Pizza and Debate - After market, we visited Wayne's house just across from the park where we hold the market. There, we dined on sausage-and-tomato pizza (a new favorite) and debated politics and what's to be done about the quality (or lack of) education in this country. Fun stuff.

Professor Brent - Mornings, I am stuck at a computer, making a living, so Brent was kind enough to kidnap Eleni not once, but twice, and show her around the region. She'd always come back bubbling about all the machines and crops she saw, plus all the farm schwag Brent had given her. I'm so glad she got to pick his brain, which contains endless farming knowledge - a rich resource and another perspective on the industrial ag issue.

Lettuce Slaughter - Sadly, my lettuce has bolted (gone to seed) and the leaves are too bitter to sell. Wah! The remaining heads (too many to think about) needed to be dug up, ripped apart and left for compost. I didn't have the heart to do it - Eleni to the rescue! She pulled this off one morning at 6:30 a.m. while I...er, um, snoozed.

A salad crime scene
Driving Lessons - As I said, Brent showed her the beauty of large machines. Her last day on the farm, Brent had her driving an 4-wheeler and a 1950 frontloader tractor we refer to simply as "the bucket", as in Brent telling me, "Why would you need a wheelbarrow and/or ladder when we have the bucket?"

She's a natural!
My favorite shot of Eleni

Pembina State Museum - This was a quick visit but their excellent explanation of local geology (we're at the former bottom of Lake Agassiz, an immense body of glacial water) and the local M├ętis culture (when French fur traders married Native American women). Plus, I wanted her to see the Victory Gardens posters for herself.

Amazing Grains - Eleni's presence was a good omen for me. On the day she arrived, I made my first store front deal with Amazing Grains, an organic co-op in Grand Forks. I sold 'em over 3 pounds of shallots - it was so very exciting to see them on the shelf!

Then, on drive down to Fargo for her flight home, Eleni put together 12 bundles of my Lemon basil to sell in the same store. Again, it is a thrill to see my Scranch label on the shelf and be part of the 'eat local' movement in a very real way. (Ironically, the produce manager, Rex, said to me, "This is great! Now we don't have to order this from California" which means I'm competing against my home state.)

HoDo - On her final night in NoDak, I treated my wonderful intern to a fine meal at HoDo, a swanky restaurant in downtown Fargo that specializes in local, organic ingredients. (They've even got an herb garden on the roof.) Their menu states:

We thank the artisans, farmers, ranchers, beekeepers and other uncommon souls from the Red River Valley and beyond who enhance our table and the food we offer.

After spending quality time this week with Eleni - another uncommon soul - I feel blessed by her support and friendship. More importantly, I feel buoyed by her interest in the health of the world and the future of food.

And I am still giggling at her offer, "You want more interns? I can send you my friends." Oh man, I could build an army of bright-eyed young folks who just might be able to turn this ship around before it hits that chemical-laden iceberg. I feel re-energized by Eleni's interest in this issue, like maybe I'm on the right track.

I asked her if the trip met her expectations. "It exceeded them, "she said. "Honestly, I thought I'd just be weeding in the garden 8 hrs. every day, being sweaty and dirty, but you had me doing so many different things!" 

Whew! This was a relief to hear. I can't believe she thought that I'd have her travel 1,900 miles just for slave labor. Holy cow. No wonder no one else visits!

Eleni's first farm sunset
"I'm coming back, you know?" she said, and the itinerary for Eleni's next visit is already done. But I gotta tell ya, in the meantime, I'm sure going to miss hearing, "Anything else, Miss Clisby?"


Anonymous said...

Hi Heather:

Thanks for sharing Eleni's Visit. I was so excited for her to go, knowing that she would see and do things that would make her think differently from now on. I think it would be cool for adults to do too! Congratulations on your place in the market.

All the best!

Heather Clisby said...

Thanks for stopping by, Roberta. I certainly hope Eleni had an engaging experience. Exposure to new ideas and cultures make a strong impression when we are young - at least that is what I remember...

Thanks for the kind words of encouragement - much appreciated!

Eleni Jacobson said...

Crying. Can't stop reading this over and over. Heather, what this post only hints at is how marvelous a host, friend, mentor, and inspiration you are to me. Our week together was educational and laid back, informative and fun. I'm so blessed (a word I never use lightly) to have had this chance. I WILL be back, and we'll get our army. My friends can't get enough info and details about my trip. I feel inspired and hopeful about the future of small ag. Thank you for showing me how to be a leader without a title--one of the most important abilities anyone, but especially women, can develop.

We'll see you soon, Miss Clisby. Love always from myself, Mom, Dad, and Sam

Heather Clisby said...

You are such a wonderful young woman - your sheer existence makes me feel better about the future. I am so pleased that you enjoyed your NoDak visit; it is not a place that many Americans get to see!

For some reason, I have never heard the term "small ag" and once again, will be quoting you. And a "leader without a title"...! You have inherited your father's writing skills and your mother's reasoning - can't wait to see what you do in this life! Love ya!