Know Farms, Know Food

By Rebecca Finkel

When I tell people that I’m a dietetic intern working on a farm the usual response I get is why? After all, I hold a master’s of science degree in nutrition and my internship is intended to prepare me for the Registered Dietitian exam so I can be credentialed in my field. And while it would certainly be nice to develop some rudimentary gardening skills to grow my own food, I have no intention of becoming a professional farmer. So why spend an entire month working on a small farm?

One of my fellow interns put it best: We’re going back to basics. If we are to be “food and nutrition experts” we need to know where our food comes from and how it grows, in what season and what conditions it thrives, and understand what it takes to produce enough food. And the longer I spend on the farm, the more I become conversant in the language of other farmers, agronomists, economists and policy makers discussing the future of farming in the U.S.

Last night I was listening to Melinda Hemmelgarn’s interview with Jeff Moyer of the Rodale Institute on her KOPN podcast. I noticed that my level of comprehension of their discussion of conventional vs. organic farming practices, of soil health and organic matter, of crop rotation and cover crops, was far superior than it would have been just three weeks ago. While I may spend my days wearing hiking pants, boots and a cotton t-shirt covered in sweat, compost, soil and water, I am actually working in a living classroom. Throughout the workday Farmer Dan shares tidbits of information about organic growing methods, like how to add amendments to the soil – some organic matter (ie. compost) for carbon, alfalfa meal for slow release nitrogen – to optimize its health. I learn in other ways too. While harvesting red peppers, for example, I realized that green peppers were actually immature red peppers – I never knew that! I learned that basil is a good plant to indicate the start of fall, because its leaves began to turn yellowish-brown as the temperatures dropped at night earlier this week. Every living being on the farm has a lesson to teach and my job as a dietitian is to extract these lessons, distill them and relate them to food and nutrition, cooking and eating.

At the St. Joe’s farmer’s market on Wednesday we made that connection. If you were lucky enough to stop by the farm cart we offered samples of three different recipes featuring red peppers, which we have been harvesting over the past few weeks. There were three of us dietetic interns on The Farm and we teamed up to offer new suggestions for ways to use the produce we’re selling. As shoppers and passersby stopped to sample our creations, we swapped recipes and cooking ideas and smiles. We shared delicious ways to prepare the food we grew. We encouraged healthy eating and educated customers about The Farm and its connection to the hospital. And that’s certainly a worthwhile way for us future dietitians to spend our time.

We plan to continue to provide samples at next week’s market, so be sure to stop by! We also love hearing how you like to prepare vegetables and are happy to share our ideas too!

Rebecca Finkel is spending a month on The Farm at St. Joe’s as part of her dietetic internship at the U of M’s School of Public Health. She regularly blogs about food culture and nutrition policy at Born and raised in New York City, Rebecca is a greenhorn in the greenhouse.


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