We were all ready to tromp out to the farm on that overcast and damp Thursday, the 4th of October, to given a tour by Susan Grove, executive director of the Poughkeepsie Farm Project. Florence “Flo” Reed, founder of Sustainable Harvest International (Sustainable Harvest International is a NGO that teaches and encourages organic and sustainable farming practices to families in Central America through on-the-ground employees.) was visiting for the week, had spoken to our class, and was ready to join us on our walk. Just as our biology class was wrapping up, Professor Cunningham appeared in the doorway to give an announcement. Because of the inclement weather, Ms. Grove had called off the tour and would instead be joining us in Ely Hall to give a presentation. Mixed emotions welled up inside me. I was looking forward to walking around the farm, but at the same time I didn’t want to get my feet and boots soggy again (I had traipsed through wet pastures the past two weeks for my field work and I was beginning to worry about trench foot).
After grabbing some lunch, we met in a second-floor room of Ely where Ms. Grove had a PowerPoint presentation to show us that highlighted some of the work and future goals that the Poughkeepsie Farm Project has done and will continue to work toward. After that and some round-table discussion, we made plans for dinner. We cordially invited both Ms. Reed and Ms. Grove to our apartment for an evening of food and light conversation. We attempted to give directions to our TH to Ms. Reed, but we finally folded when Ms. Grove offered to pick her up and drive her there. We all went our separate ways with Maddie frantically running to the store to buy orzo for the dish she had planned at least a day in advance.
The dinner hour came and Ms. Grove and Ms. Reed showed up at our door with timeliness. We all sat down around the table and dished up. The orzo was warm with gooey pieces of mozzarella and succulent slices of eggplant. Ms. Grove asked us to go around and tell a little bit about ourselves and our field works.
After talking about us someone asked a question about them. We thought it funny how both of them had been Peace Corps Volunteers. Also, their volunteering seemed to have impacted their career choices.
Ms. Reed had volunteered in Panama. She told of initial woes and a lack of Peace Corps infrastructure (she had been in a group that was the first back to Panama in a long time). She eventually got some projects going and while in the country, she noticed their use of slash-and-burn agriculture and some of their attitudes and practices toward native flora. She told us about her work in NGO’s after coming back from Panama and then forming her own based on what she experienced in Panama.
Ms. Grove had gone to Romania with her husband after working in accounting for a number of years. In Romania, she worked in economic development while her husband taught English at the local high school. She regaled us with stories of nights of dancing, music, and wonderful food. Her experiences were much different than Ms. Reed’s with the ability to attend state-sponsored orchestra concerts for a dollar. But Ms. Grove’s experience with the Romanian food system is what brought her to where she is now. In Romania, she saw a vibrant, healthy food system that focused on in-season, fresh, local ingredients. It was this kind of system that she longed for in the United States, and has attempted to bring about with her work at the Poughkeepsie Farm Project.
Our guests couldn’t stay too long, with Ms. Reed needing her sleep to catch an early train down to New York to attend some meetings. We thanked them for coming by and assured Ms. Grove that we would see her again soon. With that, they opened the door, stepped out, and disappeared into the darkness.