It’s high noon on a sunny Friday at Ollin Farms, and what would make a gorgeous still life of colorful zucchinis, eggplants, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, basil, and onions is anything but still. Hands are sorting, bunching, washing, and putting the veggies in coolers and crates to be transported to Saturday farmer’s markets. That’s where the public will get the grand effect of all of the shapes and hues of the produce.
Many of the same hands working post-harvest are of interns who also planted the 150 varieties of vegetables from mustard to melons. They’ve weeded, watered, and learned what it takes to grow food for farmer’s markets, restaurants, and the kitchens of the farms’ CSA members.
Farm owner Mark Guttridge said it hit him earlier this year just how powerful an internship program could be. Guttridge noticed that when he told people he had just met that he’s a farmer, they were eager to share their childhood experiences of working on a farm. This year the Ollin Farms’ internship program was launched with six teenagers.
“This is a great opportunity to give kids their first job and get them being physical for something that actually matters in the community,” Guttridge said. “The goal is to teach them to be responsible.”
The program is a natural extension of the farms’ summer education program for six-to 11-year-olds. Next year the internship program will be more publicly advertised, but this year the slots were filled by those with connections to the farm and the Guttridge family
Pre-market days start early in the morning with the interns picking produce in the field and then prepping it for sale during the afternoon.
Under the open-side structure referred to as the washing station, interns Lucy Swatfigure, Christopher Simmonds, and Niko Molfese are whittling away at a hefty pile of dirt coated yellow, orange, and purple carrots still attached to their leafy tops. They gather the veggies into bouquets, twist on a tie, rinse them with water, and place the bunches on wire mesh-covered tubs to drip dry.
Simmonds, a senior at Niwot High School, attended Ollin’s summer camp for five years before joining its internship program this summer. He was new to farm life back then and learned firsthand where food comes from and picked up some Spanish along the way. He was hooked from the beginning, he said, and these last three months as a worker on the farm have had an even deeper effect.
“Mark is so passionate about everything he does, it rubs off on everyone,” Simmonds said. “We get to learn so much about every single vegetable and what goes into growing it. It’s really eye-opening to me.”
Simmonds is enthusiastic about staying involved with agriculture and one day hopes to help “revolutionize farming with lower carbon impacts.”
Molfese, a sophomore at Old Columbine High School and a self-confessed non-veggie appreciator prior to this summer, now seems on his way to being converted to a semi-veggie-loving being.
“I was not expecting there to be so many colors and so many kinds of vegetables,” Molfese said. “Almost half of this stuff here, I never even knew what it was.”
Now that he’s tasted a lot of produce, he said what’s being grown on Ollin Farms is better than store-bought versions. The other interns agreed that everything tastes great - the carrots are actually juicy, they said, and they attribute that to the high quality soil on the farm.
For Swatfigure, an incoming freshman at Niwot High School, the amount of patience required for the entire process was the most challenging. Now, she said, she’s used to it and can see herself having a garden someday.
Gavin Morrison, a junior at Niwot, is the Greens’ Master. He immerses lettuce leaves in water-filled sinks, places the wet leaves in big mesh sacks, and uses a spin cycle washing machine to disperse the water.
Morrison said he’d like to combine his engineering interest with farming to use robots, drones, and machinery to improve efficiency.
An adult intern also joined the crew. Danielle McCann owns a farm off East Countyline Road and wants to expand her operation. She applied to participate in the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s new Agricultural Workforce Development Program where she was matched with Ollin Farms.
“It was awesome, she came on and already kind of knew about farming, so I put her in charge of a lot of the production,” Guttridge said. “It was good for the farm and good for her.”
From April through June McCann worked five days a week while the state program covered half of her pay. In the cold early spring, McCann’s first job was planting seeds in trays to grow in the greenhouse until they could be planted outdoors safely.
McCann was involved with field preparation and was especially excited about using a seeder machine that creates furrows, drops perfectly spaced seeds,and then covers them. Now working two days a week, McCann intends to see the end of season wrap up and take the knowledge back to her own land.
“This was a great opportunity for me to see how to do things on a bigger scale, because I’ve been gardening all my whole life in Colorado, but it’s really different.” McCann said.
Half of the teen intern group worked full-time and half worked part-time. Each intern was paid $12 an hour. The addition of interns helped offset the loss of a couple of employees this year, Guttridge said.
“My family can handle the distribution, but as the farm grows, we need more help planting, harvesting, and the washing,” Guttridge said, “It worked out really well.”