The farmhand

Linda Drollinger
Posted 8/21/12

CALLICOON CENTER, NY — Nadine Fattaleh is no shrinking violet. At 18, she left the security and familiarity of her home in Jordan to pursue an economics degree at Columbia University, decided when …

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The farmhand

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CALLICOON CENTER, NY — Nadine Fattaleh is no shrinking violet. At 18, she left the security and familiarity of her home in Jordan to pursue an economics degree at Columbia University, decided when she got there to tack on a second major in sustainable development and now hopes to add a minor in visual arts as well. Knowing that there is a real-world gap between economic theory and practice, she signed on for an 18-day internship as a WWOOFer under the international program Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF). Fattaleh left Apple Pond Farm and Renewable Energy Center in Callicoon Center on June 4, by her own admission, a changed woman.

The internship had a dual purpose: to acquaint the student with the economics of American agriculture, particularly as applied to small, independent farms, and to teach the student practical organic farming skills and sustainable energy practices. A good internship should move its subject outside the subject’s comfort zone; by that measure, this internship was a resounding success. Nothing in Fattaleh’s urban upbringing and time at Columbia could have prepared her for what she learned to do at Apple Pond Farm. When she arrived, farm co-owners Sonja Hedlund and Dick Riseling asked her what practical skills she brought to the farm. Fattaleh said, “I can do dishes and some basic cooking.”

Animal husbandry proved the biggest challenge. Weeding came in a close second. Fattaleh found the care and feeding of sheep, goats and chickens to be almost as unnerving as parenting. She recalled going to feed the chickens one morning and hearing no sound from the coop. “I thought I might have accidentally killed them. When they finally started clucking, it was music to my ears.” She added, “An easy mistake, like leaving a gate or barn door open, can quickly result in animal injury or death.”

Amazed to find that the animals were not always passive and submissive, but had individual personalities and were sometimes difficult to manage, Fattaleh said, “The goats can be aggressive. They seem to enjoy making life difficult for me.” Singling out two that clamored to be photographed, Fattaleh characterized them as “chronic troublemakers.” Still, she claimed learning to milk goats as the most significant accomplishment of her internship and called it “a lot of fun.” And she discovered a rapport with horses that made her decide to take riding lessons.

Weeding was the other bane of her life. “Although I come from a farming background—my family owns olive groves—I was never involved with the hands-on aspects of grove maintenance. In organic farming, the war against weeds is an ongoing conflict. It was something I did every day, several times a day.”

Of her plans for life after Apple Pond Farm, Fattaleh says, “My friends and I will hold a picnic in Central Park. I’ll bring the feta cheese I made today. My friends will be blown away when they taste it.” Next will be a quick trip home to Jordan before beginning another farm internship, this time in France, so that Fattaleh can boost her French language skills as she hones her agricultural economics knowledge. And then back to Columbia for the start of her sophomore year.

[See wwoofinternational.org and www.wwoofusa.org to learn more about the WWOOF program. For more about Apple Pond Farm and Renewable Energy Center, visit www.applepondfarm.com or call 845/482-4764 or email sonja@applepondfarm.com.]

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