By Rachel McClellan
Hi! My name is Rachael McClellan and I’m a dietetic intern that will be spending time at the farm until July 26th. I hail from Michigan (Livonia/Westland area) and am a recent graduate of the master’s programs in nutrition at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health and kinesiology. My background is an interesting one; I had always had a passion for food, health, and helping people but strangely decided that it was all about the money when selecting my undergraduate major at Michigan State. I got my bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering and proceeded to get a job with a small oil corporation that had me rotating from refinery to refinery every few months. I was transferred to the renewable fuels division of the company (i.e. making ethanol from corn and other available grains) and worked there for the better part of a year. In my time as a process and plant engineer, I made the realization that I really didn’t enjoy mechanical processes and fixing them and wanted to work with people and help them to make healthier lifestyle choices.
Here I am two years later and ready to do just that once I have officially started my career as a dietitian! However, in order to be an effective dietitian, I felt that I needed to have a decent grasp, or at least some experience, in how we attain our food: specifically produce. I had not taken much interest in the “farm” aspect of food during graduate school, mainly because I was trying to complete two master’s programs, teaching fitness classes at the YMCA, and participating in all sorts of other activities that took up all of the remaining hours in the day that were not devoted to studying. My time at the St. Joseph farm will essentially be my first official experience with farming and gardening, but I am pleased that I have been given the opportunity. I am determined to get my hands dirty and learn how to identify produce in the field, cultivate crops, and harvest them. I also hope to successfully grow my own bell peppers, basil, oregano, and summer squash on my balcony once I am finished with this rotation, now that I have a better idea of what I’m doing.
The last couple of days have certainly been hot (averaging at least 90 degrees) so we have been working hard to get the brunt of the outside work done before noon, before the heat becomes dangerous and too unbearable. So far we have picked and washed cherry tomatoes, pulled weeds from the strawberry plants, planted basil in the Garden Tower (a post on this will follow later next week) and weeded the raspberries (no fruit this season though, sadly). I hear that harvesting garlic is also in our near future, both at the St. Joseph farm and potentially at Diana Dyer’s farm; I very much enjoy garlic, so I am excited to learn about the process of picking garlic, as well as be both an inquisitive foodie and food science nerd in the process. I have been modifying and creating recipes for the running databank that Dan has on file for the various vegetables that are taken to market; I find this to be helpful not only to individuals that will be going to the farmer’s market, but to myself since I, sadly, have very little experience working with “straight off the field” fresh produce and herbs and seek to better my food preparation knowledge and skills. I also was able to help prepare and “package” various fruits and vegetables (swiss chard, kale, green bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, broccoli) that had been harvested on Tuesday and Wednesday. In addition, I lent a hand at the farmer’s market that is held in the lobby of St. Joseph hospital on Wednesdays. I enjoy the fact that the hospital holds this farmer’s market once a week on their campus and that if certain produce items don’t sell out, they get donated to places like Food Gatherers; many, many people are receiving benefit from this.
I think something that has impressed me most in the few days that I have been here, other than the fact that the farm plays such a wonderful role in making produce available to many people, is the therapy hoop house that resides in the center of the farm. Being busy and having the ability to keep a garden, as an outlet, can add meaning back to the life of someone that has seen many hard times or has a mental health condition; it can also be a form of productive physical activity for individuals with chronic conditions or various other life altering conditions. Being a previous physical therapy patient myself, I can draw a connection between rehabilitation of the body, mind, and consequently, gardening; what better way to strengthen muscles and take a person’s mind off of their pain and injury than to garden and grow fresh, delicious food?
I am hopeful that the other dietetic intern (Katie) and I will have the opportunity to turn some of this wonderful, fresh produce into quick easy meals and treats that will be on the recipe cards that are handed out at the farmer’s market at St. Joseph this upcoming Wednesday. I have a really great fiber-full chocolate zucchini brownie recipe that I would love to make for some people! Sharing recipes and talking about food with others will forever and always be a favorite past-time of mine, especially if the food can better a person’s health. I will conclude this introductory post by saying that I am happy to be here working under the sun, regardless of how hot and muggy it is, and learning as much as I can about the growing and cultivating foods that can add years to our life and life to our years. Thanks!