The Eco-Idealist Urban Farm Intern Who Is Terrified of Chickens

Photo: Istockphoto

This week, Daily Intel is taking a peek inside the lives of summer interns. Today, the Eco-Idealist Who Is Terrified of Chickens: Male, 21, environmental-studies major working a paid internship at an urban farm.

DAY ONE

7:55 a.m. Wake up drenched in sweat. I’m not used to living without air-­conditioning, especially when it’s supposed to get up to 90 degrees. Working outside all day is going to kill me.

9:45 a.m. Arrive at work. Boss has a list of things to do, so I head to the rooftop farm for the first time. I’m about to confront my two biggest fears: heights and birds. Something about their beaks that just bothers me; maybe I watched Hitchcock’s The Birds too young. The thought of handling the farm’s chickens, in particular, gives me nightmares.

9:55 a.m. The view from the roof is breathtaking. Forget the Empire State Building; this has to be the best view in the city. Time to get to work.

10:20 a.m. Harvesting chard and kale all morning. The sun is starting to heat up. I apply sunscreen.

11:07 a.m. The height isn’t as bad I as expected — just seven stories — but I can see the chickens watching me as I work. They sense my fear.

11:45 a.m. My boss seems pretty nice — not the most talkative, but it’s obvious he’s knowledgeable. He’s young and lean, the kind of guy I would expect to work in the fashion industry rather than on a farm.

Noon Lunchtime and into the cool of the building. I enjoy a couple peanut-butter-and-honey sandwiches and finally stop sweating.

1:15 p.m. Tilling for a new bed of tomatoes. The physical labor is making me sweat, and I’m on my fourth bottle of water. Now I get the lovely task of spreading compost and chicken manure on the bed by the fistful.

2:08 p.m. Weeding for the rest of the day with a couple other interns. It’s boring, and there’s not much conversation, but it’s a nice break from the hard, physical work.

4:59 p.m. My first day is over. I head home covered in sweat, mud, and chicken shit.

5:17 p.m. Pretty sure a girl on the subway is taking a picture of how dirty and sweaty I am.

DAY TWO

6:30 a.m. I leave the NYU dorms where I’m staying this summer, and I can’t help but feel like everyone here is pretentious and fake. I go to a café for tea and a bagel and continue to be bothered by people’s pompousness. I’m grumpy today.

7:58 a.m. After a long shower and even longer commute, I am the first one at work. I realize that my boss and the other employees are very laid back: The 8 a.m. start time is more of a guideline than a rule.

8:20 a.m. Everyone arrives, and we head up to the roof. The view still amazes me.

8:25 a.m. Eight of us work on “suckering” the tomato plants — a task that involves a lot of kneeling and pruning.

11:14 a.m. My back is sore, and this task is boring. Fortunately, my boss lets us take regular breaks. I stop to enjoy the view again.

1:09 p.m. After spending lunch hearing stories of my boss’s wild college days and his onetime passion for a different kind of herb, we head back out. I need to build trellises for the tomatoes out of bamboo and string.

1:34 p.m. I am working with a thirtysomething guy originally from Indiana. He is friendly and easy to work with. He tells me stories about working with the Peace Corps in Africa, which I have always wanted to do. He’s also passionate about local food and the urban-farming movement.

5:05 p.m. I’m starting to enjoy the trellis work: There’s something therapeutic about a repetitive, hands-on task.

5:10 p.m. I head downstairs to work the market stall with two other interns. We have awkward, get-to-know-each-other conversations. So far, I haven’t made many friends here. 

5:57 p.m. Not a single person passing by stops to buy anything. I guess we don’t look friendly and approachable.

DAY THREE

8:01 a.m. I arrive at work and head straight to the roof. Today is Market Day, meaning we’ll be harvesting all kinds of vegetables and herbs.

8:22 a.m. I start by picking peas. Finding camouflaged pods amid the surrounding green is almost impossible.

9:15 a.m. Once all the peas are picked, I get to the task of harvesting lettuce.

10:57 a.m. Harvesting chard, kale, and mixed greens. All boring, repetitive tasks that seem to take forever. It’s still not lunchtime?!

11:10 a.m. More suckering! The only relief is that it’s also Community Day, so people are coming through asking questions.

11:30 a.m. A couple from Copenhagen stop to talk. This is exactly what I was hoping to do more of: I like community outreach, and it’s good to use my knowledge instead of just doing physical work.

12:58 p.m. My boss assures me that we are finishing early today, so we agree to work through lunch. The final hours fly by because a group of second-graders is visiting the farm. They high-five me on the way out.