Chores? Yes, farm chores have been part of the curriculum. At Sterling College, they were required of us; at Vermont Technical College, they were optional. For me personally, that meant going down at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday, June 7, to help feed chicks and water hogs and photograph Sterling students Taylor and Story feeding rabbits, gathering eggs, and moving steers into fresher pasture. Most of the summer study tour crew did opt to help out at the Vermont Tech dairy farm. They learned to clean equipment in the milk parlor, operate a skid loader, move cattle to new pasture, and several milked cows for the very first time.
On our final morning at Vermont Tech, most in our group headed for the tomato high tunnel with Vermont Tech Ag Institute instructors Sosten Lungu and Molly Willard. Much of the sucker-removal work had already been done by Vermont Tech students, so we talked instead about grafting, organic vegetable production, and use of cover-cropping in the fields – to which we did not venture because of the drenching rains.
The rest of the day was spent more typically as students, i.e., in the classroom.
Sosten led a discussion about C-3, C-4, and crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) plant crops. The students and I learned that 99 percent of plants we eat are C-3, that is, have 3 carbon molecules, and grow best between 46˚ F and 70˚ F. C-4 plants, with 4 carbon molecules, evolved from C-3 plants millions of years ago. They comprise only .92 percent of the world’s vegetation and do well only between 85˚ F and 105˚ F. In this category, pretty much only corn, sorghum, and Sudan grass are grown as food for humans and animals. In the third category, CAM plants enjoy only the hottest environments. For human consumption, these include certain cacti and pineapple.
Other lessons of the day included: 1) cover cropping with Molly, which I had to miss because of certain media fellow responsibilities; 2) a deeper discussion of growing corn with Sosten, in which we learned of the differences between conventional breeding for hybrids and genetic engineering (GE) (One piece of information that stuck with me was of current research being done to inject a gene from a fish that survives in icy Antarctic waters into grass, which could grow in Vermont winters down to -20˚ F.); and 3) an on-the-farm lecture by Chris Dutton, director of the Institute for Applied Agriculture and Food Systems, on budgeting and money from animals.
Brave New World!