By Alexander Harrell, Production Crew Member
Serving at Real Food Farm has afforded me many opportunities that in the past seemed to be gated behind a working and studying schedule. I am happy to say that I have helped expand our production on a new site at Perlman Place, and this experience has exposed me to challenges of establishing a farm, transforming soil, and tending to young fruit trees. Cover-cropping is something that I have come to enjoy for a lot of reasons, including the hour-long conversation that I had with another group of farmers from southern Maryland about managing cover-crop to successfully compete against grasses and weeds as substrate in your plantings. It’s a simple joy, I know, but one that has a rather profound effect on my daily life because now it is a topic that I get to contemplate. This is what I mean by experiences that were gated to me in the past; now there is an open pasture of nitrogen fixers and biomass producers ahead of me.
Another way that Real Food Farm has provided me with an amazing opportunity is with regard to my upcoming project. I want to learn how to manage and grow mushrooms on a small scale, sustainably and year-round. Now I am able to spend time talking to other people who cultivate mushrooms about their methods and preferred varieties, as well as foraging techniques and notes. Before, mycelia culture was a project that I was only allowed to work on a handful of days out of the year, and even then this was a project that I had to undertake on my own. Inoculating logs was a labor intensive job that required a lot of prep, chainsaws and hauling, and when it came time to actually drill and plug, I was not allowed to do that work while on the clock. My labor was lent out by my employer to a close friend of his as a favor, and he did not want to have to spare me for more than one workday at a time. In those days, the people who brought me along on their mushroom hunts and their inoculation sessions tried to keep all of the information that they had collected over the decades to themselves. There is an old tradition in mycology of keeping your secrets close-guarded, and sharing them only with family and friends. Everyone else was viewed as competition when it came to wild foraging and growing, so it was important to keep these secrets to oneself. So the less that I knew, the better. Naturally, I was starved for this information and etched everything that I learned into my mind. They would only divulge as much as they had to in order to let me function as a cog in the wheel that was the need to wrap up the work by sundown. At times, this felt debilitating to someone with a genuine curiosity. All I wanted was answers to my questions, but with easily 100 years worth of collective experience to learn from, I was not getting many answers. I wanted more, and this compelled me to begin collecting literature and exploring the little information that I had on hand.
Now, thanks to and through Real Food Farm, AmeriCorps, and Civic Works, I am being encouraged to dedicate time to a part of agriculture that has piqued my curiosity for years. My service with Americorps allows me to focus on a specific project of my own choosing, and I have decided to dedicate my learning experience with Americorps to mycelia culture because now I have the time and resources available to me that were not available to me in the past. Bryan Alexander and Myeasha Taylor, the respective Clifton and Perlman farm managers, have helped guide my decisions and procedures for pursuing this endeavor. They have provided me with contacts, space and time to dedicate to my project and for that I would like to say thank you to the both of them. Thank you.