How do you learn to farm? If you didn’t grow up with farmers, you could apprentice yourself to some. That’s what Eleanor Burke and Andre Entermann have been doing with Ken Akopiantz and Kathryn Thomas at Horse Drawn Farm on Lopez since March and plan to continue doing for another year and a half.
“This has just been total immersion,” they said, as we settled onto a mat outside their tipi recently. As we talked they revealed what they’ve been learning and what they hope to do next.
“Kathryn said they wanted people to apprentice for two years because farm life is about cycles,” Eleanor explained. “The first year is just living, working, getting the rhythms. I don’t know what the second year will look like, but that made sense to me.” At the same time, “Some days it’s harder to see the bigger picture,” she said. “Sometimes I feel like a laborer, hoeing rows of lettuce all day.”
“I’m trying to ask a lot of questions and take notes,” Eleanor continued. “I said to Ken, ‘I feel like we need more teaching,’ but Ken said ‘I also need you to ask because I don’t know how much to tell you.’” With Ken, “It’s more about the feel and fact that he’s being doing it so long. How does he know how to water, how long, what time of day? It’s almost coming from intuition. That’s why being here, doing the work, is the most essential thing as opposed to reading it in a book.”
“Two things I was thinking of when deciding to come here were border collies and oxen,” Andre said. Now he drives the oxen by himself, though it means getting up “even earlier to get them from the field, brush them, and yoke them.”
“We’re learning a lot of animal husbandry skills,” Eleanor added, saying that with Kathryn’s sheep and pigs “a basic question I ask is ‘what are you looking for?’ She showed me how you can tell from sheep’s teeth how old they are.”
Their apprenticeship isn’t just about produce and livestock. “We’re learning to work hard and to work with another couple: communication, basic relationship stuff.” “The most important thing,” Andre added, “is to sit down and talk about what’s really going on. At first, Ken and Kathryn didn’t think we’d have time but then we realized that we weren’t checking in with each other. Now we try to have weekly meetings. In all my experiences with communities, I’ve found it all comes down to social issues.”
What will Eleanor and Andre do when their apprenticeship is over? They’ll definitely be growing food. “I have a lot of ideas about combining growing food with some sort of community activism,” Eleanor said. “I’d want to have a farm that was both a community center with lots of outreach going on and a collective business effort so that people would have an investment in it.”
“I have lofty dreams of an eco-village and maybe a goat dairy,” Andre said, “and having a place where my parents can come. I want to work hard and grow food, but if I follow my heart, I don’t want to sell anything or buy anything, just be able to trade with people.”
“Being so idealistic has gotten me into trouble,” he said, smiling. “I need to bite the bullet and sell out a little bit and make some money.”
Next time you’re at Horse Drawn Farm, look for Eleanor and Andre and thank them for taking on the challenge of learning to farm. They’re the future of food.
To read more about Eleanor and Andre, look for Eleanor’s monthly zine “It’s a Farm Life” at Media Cocktail and Vortex.