Early Harvests & More!

The garden speaks to us in ways we at first may not recognize. Yet it invites us to reflect through its offerings like the ability to cut your own flowers, to snack your way through the grazing garden, listening to the poplar tree that almost sounds like moving water, or simply the distance of the Knoll from campus. It is natural to celebrate and share these gifts from the garden.

In these early harvests, I am learning that the Knoll awards us beyond the fruits of our labor. While there is nothing more satisfying than the crunch of a sugar snap pea freshly picked, or witnessing the flowers come to bloom, there is also delight within the stages of the plants where it is not visible, as seeds in the ground, or when it has fully reached capacity and is nearing its end. This process embraces impermanence and welcomes observation which may not always come easy. Even after a harvest, there are more lessons about caring for plants considering best practices for keeping produce or for arranging bouquets. My immediate answer is a bucket of cold water, but I know there are a range of factors that contribute to the collective care from and for our communities. 

It is humbling to bear witness to these changes. In my constant awe in the ways the Knoll shares its story, I think about my own and the ways these narratives entangle, diverge, and come together. So I offer this brief poem I wrote to/for my grandmother, Ima, reflecting on the time I’ve spent working at the Knoll this summer.

To Ima,

There are lessons here 

lessons I feel like you would’ve taught me 

if you were still around

And in some ways I think you still do

because I am here because of you

I followed the origins of your labor and love

recalling the farm 

I recollect your daily walks to check in with the orchards and the pigs

I mirror this as I walk through the garden

singing to the beds and squealing over new blooms in celebration

Maybe this is me finding you

Maybe this is you finding me

Our reconnection gifted by this land

that I am constantly learning from and in awe of

My favorite spot is by the poplar tree

conveniently there is a picnic table to its side

everyday before work begins, I sit here

I’ve noticed the way it bends 

directed by the south winds that blow through

I’ve took note of the different patterns of noise it makes 

sometimes like moving water

sometimes a subtle rustle tuned into a faded buzz

It sings to me

and I can’t help but to remember

our daily ritual of sitting on the hammock

swaying to the breeze 

underneath your banana trees 

as you hummed lullabies 

singing me to sleep

June Recap!

Wrapping up our first month together, the garden has transformed tremendously. The beds are almost fully planted with an abundance of squash, peas, beans, tomatoes, tomatillos, sweet potatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and a variety of flowers. Both Gazing and Grazing Gardens have just received new transplants while more starts are beginning to sprout in the greenhouse.

Work days would not be complete without visitors. It ranges from people wandering the TAM, old friends coming back, Environmental Affairs Sustainability Solutions Lab interns hanging around, and new folks curious to what the space holds. Every interaction there is a story about place, sometimes about the Knoll and sometimes it is another place that this garden reminds them of. Almost always, we conclude in gratitude for the joys of being outside and bearing witness to the beauty of growth.

This growth is not only in the garden though. It is evident in the ways our team has navigated each week with high spirits and an eagerness to complete tasks. It is the way Crystal celebrates weedwacking forgetting about lunchtime or the way Lauren weeds an entire bed fully by herself or the way Caroline delights over pulling quackgrass hoping the roots are longer than the last. While there is still so much to learn, there is a sense of familiarity to work these days. I feel it in my body as my knees no longer buckle when I reach for a weed or the way my arm naturally guides the hose through the aisles of the bed. There is no denying that this learning is embodied and only continues to develop as the garden receives new plants, new tools are introduced, and when Megan shares fun facts about plant origins and functions, animals that frequent the space, and local community knowledge. 

As the summer unfolds, we look forward to completing the final beds and coming to know what it means to care for the Knoll through the labor and love of those before in tandem with our expanding individual experiences.

Stay tuned for upcoming garden updates! Thank you for reading and if you’re local to the area, please feel welcome to come visit and/or garden with us. More information lives at http://www.go.middlebury.edu/knollhours

New Summer Interns Part 2!

We are wrapping up week 4 introducing the rest of our summer interns’, Crystal and Lauren.

Share your name (pronouns), Hometown(s), year, major(s):

  • Crystal (they/she), Phoenix, AZ, 2023.5, Classics
  • Lauren (she/her), Norwich VT, 2023, Conservation Biology

Please share something (a place, a concept, a plant, an insect, etc.) that has caught your attention. What stands out to you about it?

CRYSTAL: Transplantation comes from the Latin prefix trans “across, beyond” and the verb plantare “to plant, fix in place.” On our first day at the Knoll, we made little soil blocks (which we lovingly call soil brownies) to house squash seeds. As we’ve watched them develop from seeds to baby sprouts, we would routinely bring them out of the hoop house to harden them, testing them against the elements before transplanting them into a new home in the fields. I’ve learned all my life that plants detest moving, that the jostling of the root formations would harm their well being. I was puzzled because the very act of putting down roots implies setting up a permanent home. 

As the academic year draws to an end, I packed up my beloved suite in Palana and said goodbye to many dear seniors. I’ve been acutely aware that one day I, too, will leave this beloved space and the memories I’ve made behind. I felt my knees wobble at the onslaught of relationships ending, changing forms, and starting anew. Megan has kindly reminded me that not all transplanting conditions, soil, and seeds are the same. I’ve been learning the ways in which nature is always out of our control, we can only hope to prepare ourselves the best way we can, drink a lot of water, and hope that this new chapter will be even more magical than the last.

LAUREN: On any visit to the Knoll, there is a good chance it will be windy. I am used to the wind on campus, whipping strands of hair across my eyes and rustling the leaves overhead. But the wind at the Knoll has a different character. Sometimes you can see the wind coming, the tall grass in the field below the Knoll undulating in waves as it travels up towards the crest of the hill. Sometimes the wind is barely a whisper, gently swaying the newly-planted peppers and corralling insects near flowers. The wind carries the sweet scent of blooming peonies or pulls at the strands of hay as we try to mulch the fields, scattering some golden pieces across the grassy paths. Far above, the wind pushes the clouds across the sky, granting temporary shade or brief rainstorms. On the day we tried to winnow beans, of course there was little wind. But on the day we tried to roll up a tarp, the wind laughed and turned our tarp into a parachute. The wind at the Knoll has a good sense of humor. The wind joins us each day at lunch in the outdoor classroom, lulling some of us to sleep. On days when the wind is gone and the air is stagnant, we miss the cool breeze at our backs, but we know the wind is never gone from the Knoll for long. 

Please describe a change that you have observed so far

CRYSTAL: Change happens so slowly in the moment but catches up to me in the blink of an eye. I see the change in my shoulder tan, CJ’s freckles, Caroline’s growing cargo pants collection, and Lauren’s muscles. I notice it in the way we joke about the stray weeds throughout campus, reaching out for a stray dandelion digger and calling for a spare spading fork. CJ can work garlic scapes into a delicious pesto. Caroline can make the most yummy pork and dill dumplings from our grazing garden. How only two weeks in, Lauren led an incredible alumni tour throughout the knoll, highlighting research perennials and incorporating historical accounts. I feel it working seamlessly alongside my knoll interns. We fall into a silent company setting up, each helping one another with sunscreen. We trade fun jobs and all buckle down together to tackle weed infested fields. The beds that used to house winter rye are scythed and turned over ready for new plants. The basil blocks have been transplanted in the ground. Directly seeded beans poke their heads out from under floating row covers. The grass needs to be mowed again. I feel myself mellowing, acting with intention, and cracking more and more garden metaphors. 

LAUREN: I started volunteering at the Knoll regularly this spring. The bitter 40 degree days slowly melted into the warm summer and the dull brown of winter grass blossomed into vibrant greens. However, since starting our summer internship at the Knoll, I have noticed a change not only in the garden, but also in the people. I did not know my fellow interns before this summer. Now, I greet them every morning in Weybridge house, spend hours weeding next to them in the sun, and drive them to swimming holes after work! I’ve watched us become more comfortable in our environment, learning the names of plants, insects, tools. The garden shed was once a daunting labyrinth, but now we all know each tool has its home: the watering cans hang at the back next to the dried flowers, the dandelion diggers live on the left as you enter the shed, and the spading forks are hung on a high rack to the right. We have helped each other learn to water, mow, and weed whack. When someone starts the mower on the first pull we all squeal with joy and when someone nails the form of scything we hollar support. Our timid uncertainty at the start of the summer has given way to confidence in the garden, and I can’t wait to see how we continue to grow throughout the season! 

What’s a question that you have going into the next few weeks?

CRYSTAL: How can Open Borders, LAND BACK, and Free Palestine stand side by side? How does one honor traditional stewardship while understanding that land ownership has and continues to be a colonial legacy. I want to dive into spatial theory to further understand the different ways spaces and its inhabitants are constantly influx and fluid. 

LAUREN: I’m planning some field trips to other farms as part of our summer, so I’m curious to see the strategies used by other farmers. What can we learn from our fellow food-producers and apply to the Knoll? What can we learn from farmers as people, and their relationship with their community and their land?

Stay tuned for upcoming garden updates! Thank you for reading and if you’re local to the area, please feel welcome to come visit and/or garden with us. More information lives at http://www.go.middlebury.edu/knollhours.

Welcome, New Summer Interns!

One week into the internship– and during our first soaking rain in almost a month– we are delving into some introductions and early-season reflection questions:

Share your name (pronouns), Hometown(s), year, major(s):

  • Caroline (she/her), Beijing, China, 2024.5, Literary Studies & Economics
  • CJ (she/they), Los Angeles, CA, 2022.5, Environmental Justice
  • Crystal (they/she), Phoenix, AZ, 2023.5, Classics
  • Lauren (she/her), Norwich VT, 2023, Conservation Biology

Today’s post will feature responses of two of our interns, Caroline and CJ.

Caroline and CJ

Please share something (a place, a concept, a plant, an insect, etc.) that has caught your attention. What stands out to you about it?

CJ: In the organized clutter of spices, sauce bottles, empty glass jars, and collected decor, the Weybridge kitchen becomes my sanctuary. I remember family parties gathered elbow to elbow prepping meals for the monthly fiesta or another birthday or something as simple as a Sunday meal. Nanay, my grandmother, always humming a gentle tune as she peeled vegetables on the table, running the blade against the flesh while spiraled skins fell onto the floor. Meanwhile, Ma frantically paces searching through cupboards and shelves only to forget what she was looking for. When I was younger, I existed in this space merely through observation, learning recipes sometimes relative to the season or to whoever was visiting. Eagerly, I admit sneaking a few bites before the meal began with Nanay always offering little treats throughout the cooking. Now that I am older, the kitchen is where I reflect the same love to those around me. I am keen on details, not just making the classic dishes my family has passed on but also, drawing inspiration from one’s particular preferences like leaving a pot of hot coffee for friends to wake to, cutting fruit that can be readily consumed, or sharing new finds to taste test with others. I appreciate food as an extension of love in addition to its purpose of nourishment. What is love but yet another entity that fills us and makes us feel warm inside, strengthening our bodies like a good bowl of soup.

CAROLINE: The voluptuous irises at the knoll caught my eye on my first day at work. Pedals of soft whispering pink curl into luxurious tangible swirls, half revealing the tender stigma and filaments curved under the shape of the pedal. It’s interesting how Google declares them to be “bearded irises” because of the small tuft of red fluff that rests on each center of a petal, while really they look, to me, more like a burning-red caterpillar dwelling inside its home. Or, if we are truly considering its resemblance to human body parts, the rich bloom more distinctively reminds me of Georgia O’Keeffe’s floral oil paintings. Flowers, commonly infused with symbolic reference to a female body, thrives vehemently in both the realm of metaphors and reality. Each fiber, each filament, and each petal wells with unquavering stream of liveliness waiting to be interpreted

Please describe a change that you have observed so far:

CAROLINE: During our Monday walk-down through the garden while making our weekly list, our attentions were caught up by Megan excitedly pointing out the moment of a butterfly laying its egg on a sprout of dill. To our surprise, this moment became even more special when we discovered two caterpillars were perched under that same sprout of dill, realizing that we’ve just witnessed the three stages of a butterfly all in one scene—the entire cycle of life condensed in one transient moment, quickly lost as the butterfly flashed its wings and disappeared. The next day I went back to check on the little caterpillar fellow, and surprisingly it has grown a lot bigger—its yellow stripes more obvious, its antenna more prominent, and its continual munch on the leaves more spirited. The fact that the entire process of bildungsroman and maturity is already compacted within the first moment of life amazes me. The hope for future and growth is buried deep within the very beginning. Growth and transformation being as much as an unforeseeable and unpredictable process, the fact that it will happen and has been happening since birth is such a hopeful picture to me.

CJ: On the very first day of work, we noticed a group of poppies still in buds. The green round bulbs swayed as the afternoon breeze passed and I wondered what color they would be. In a matter of days, one poppy popped, a bright red orange with a deep purple center. Soon enough all of the flowers bloomed with its bright colors easily spotted from anywhere throughout the garden. However, within a matter of a week, the poppies began to dry at the edge with patches of white overtaking what once was its fiery orange color. Petals are scattered all across the grass fields as the stems begin to droop. I think of words Megan has shared, something along the lines of, “no flower blooms all season”. The poppies remind me to celebrate the stages of life that are grounded in the past, honors the present, and hopes for the future. While these timelines suggest distance, all meet in the vessel that is in being whether through a poppy or within ourselves. Change encourages me to celebrate the now, knowing the impermanence of these moments along with helping me to release control of the outcome. It leaves room for uncertainty that I am learning to sit with and to accept that it is okay to just be, with no need of action or explanation.

What’s a question that you have going into the next few weeks?

CJ: In what ways will our body store this memory of work? How do we honor the origins of the Knoll while also giving space to the implications of place and being? (ie who has access to these spaces, indigenous land rights, etc.)

CAROLINE: The profound complexity of the garden continues to amaze and surprise me. Instead of being rigidly neat rectangles, the planted beds rest in all shapes and sizes. Tiger-eye beans and sweet potatoes live side by side; the Gazing Garden thrives with peonies and irises patched on the ring beds; brown fennels and dill are kindly allowed around napa cabbages. Every decision made in the garden is unique and fused with character. There is profound meaning buried within the intricate pattern of planting. Working at the garden requires perpetual curiosity about these decisions and the individuals behind them. It’s all about that textured and tangible complexity uprooted from abstract concepts. Getting to know the fields more while working prompts me to reflect on what the deep intricacy of human nature means to us, given we are all inevitably engaging in a society that operates with big numbers and constantly involutes with quantitative evaluations. While individuals are reduced, dehumanized even, in this big globalized system of interactions, our visions of and toward each other are blurred with stigma, prejudice, and assumptions. Humans are the end, not the mean. However, in this increasingly interconnected world that we all live in, the absolutely colossal numerical scale of anything simply denies the possibility of recognizing every aspect of a complex individual. The concepts of globalization and intimate connection stand in natural opposition. We are meant to assess, synthesize, and conceptualize because this is how we make meaning out of a chaotic universe. Looking forward to the upcoming weeks, I’m interested in finding a balance—the middle ground—between the pure steadfast pursuit of efficacy and the appreciation for endless complexities. 

We look forward to introducing Crystal and Lauren in the next week or two… stay tuned! In the meantime, thank you for reading and if you’re local to the area, please feel welcome to come visit and/or garden with us. More information lives at http://www.go.middlebury.edu/knollhours.

Sharing space / Ways to be together

What does it mean to farm without a fence? To exist with open boundaries, communicated through ideas, written and spoken words, abstractions… but without physical barriers?

And what do we do when there is porousness? Crossings, transgressions?

I think about the incredible idea of osmosis, and osmotic potential: that, with a permeable boundary, compounds and substances dissolved in water will want to find some kind of homeostasis, a balanced admixture on both sides. Perhaps to fence one out serves, in fact, to draw one in. But this takes a particularly potent and volatile type of solute, perhaps better viewed as a rare case.

One of our key goals and ideas at the Knoll is around accessibility for everyone, particularly for those who have not been, or seen themselves in places like the Knoll before. We have a long way to go here, and yet we’re humbly working toward progress. And, updated accessibility on our campus requires deep collaborative work and convincing of alignment with institutional priorities.*** Accessibility also means making sure that we can welcome everyone in knowing they will be physically safe, and that the care extended to the space includes care for folks of all abilities, ages, and wills to explore the infinite possibilities of the Knoll if they so choose. In building toward this, questions come up in the doing: how do we “close” a space with no doors? How do we bridge uses of the space that honor both the sacred and the mundane? What kinds of healing and connection can happen in affinity spaces, and what kinds thrive in the wild?

When one approaches a new space, an outdoor space, a space that is shared, our ideas of the space are sometimes equally as important as our physical, embodied encounters. Many are willing, and most at Middlebury are privileged, to see past the physical shortcomings if our ideas of the space preconfigure something more grand.

So the stories we tell about the space—and how we engage with it—are important.

What does homeostasis have to do with it? Maybe this is a stretch, but I wonder, what’s the right amount of information (including stories) to ultimately invoke a sense of relationship to place– perhaps even as kin, perhaps even as self– to ensure its respectful existence into perpetuity? What’s the right porosity of the “boundary” to allow this balance to settle readily? I don’t know about you, but I don’t care to be in spaces where there are signs posted everywhere naming only what NOT to do. Talk about limiting our imagination to the impossible. But there’s also the disingenuous harm of pretending that no boundaries or the absence of posted guidance is better. Because then we are all left to our own personal devices to imagine what is allowable, which gets slippery, fast.

A former College colleague of mine, Kristen Mullins, teaches around intercultural competence, and one nugget that has stuck with me is “there’s no such thing as common sense.” I love to be challenged by this idea, which at the same time, rings true to my experience. Operating in the worlds I have walked through, there are so many times we’re asked to athletically leap from one assumption to the next, flexing our benefit of the doubt just about as far as it can go, expecting that the “universal” norms that I am accustomed to are the same for you. And for all of us. How about that?

I like to go from there to ask, “if ‘there’s no such thing as common sense’ but we’re expecting ‘common sense,’ then how do we co-create it?” Well, there are signs posted at the Knoll that Burn Permits are required at the Knoll, that Pizza Oven use is by permission only, and some other guidelines for the shared space. For folks whose paths cross with our interns and me, please ask what kinds of considerations there are in a new space—or even in spaces we think we know. We post on Instagram, the website, and go/knollhours during the rare full Knoll closure, we have an entire document with over seven pages of information about specific steps in order to host an event using the campfire pit and pizza oven, and have a consultative form and sometimes, even a designated intern to help support this process. I would like to think we try to give people information up-front, so they can get a sense for the rules and then choose how to engage with them, and the place.

This is a beautiful place to pause and offer gratitude to the over 50 groups, departments, professors, and student organizations that we work with each year to ensure that they can enjoy the Knoll. Yes, it takes a little work, and, with all our communication and willfulness to leave the space better than we found it, these events will continue to happen gorgeously into the future. And thank you to those who graciously yield their casual plans to those who have organized events.

And what to do with the folks who presume that there are no rules? Or fail to see how the posted rules apply to them? I’ll leave it at: if you burn things that are not yours without permission, that’s called arson. If you break into structures with locked doors, that’s called vandalism. If you lie, point-blank, to caretakers of a space about open alcohol containers in your hands that you do not have permission to consume… There are names for that, too. That’s for another day (or not: we have better things to do, richer fodder to metabolize).

I’ll use my breath instead to offer a deep thank you to all who visit, care for, and love the Knoll—a place where we can sow our visions into being.

A final note to close—with more conversation to come. At the Knoll we can—we must—talk about Land Acknowledgment in deed and in action, and how it relates to responsibility and repair. These are some of our best plots to weed while we garden. And as we go, how can we think about improving and healing our own relationships with what it means to be in place? What does it look like to be in some idea of “right relation,” and in service of those who come next? Open, important questions, which are only underscored in importance with small actions, sometimes as simple as picking up the litter you didn’t leave, or reminding your friends that it’s better to leave booze behind when you head to the Knoll. Thank you for tending to them, in the ways you can, in thinking about our shared ways to be with each other.

….

***[And, money. Accessibility updates at the Knoll are more than the simple act of building a ramp to replace the stairs in the Outdoor Classroom structure (though this would be a great start). It takes money to pay folks to see the work through thoughtfully and to offer continued care for the space. There are physical plans in place, conversations happening across faculty, staff, classes, and administrative collaborations– so many incredible resources ready to be organized– but deeply limited capacity to champion them to action, so if you would like to help support this work, please be in touch!]

Meet the Summer 2021 Knoll Intern Crew!

As the summer begins, the Knoll at Middlebury College is more than excited to welcome its new cohort of interns! These wonderful folks will be learning, growing, and working in the garden for the whole summer, taking on some cool independent projects too. Feel free to say hi if you see them working around the garden… this crew doesn’t bite either!

Samia (no pronouns, just Samia), of Dhaka, Bangladesh + Los Angeles, California, is a rising sophomore studying neuroscience and psychology. Samia is an extroverted introvert, someone who loves listening to people’s stories and connecting them to Samia’s own life. This process shows Samia how interconnected all of our lives are, without even knowing. When asked how nature show’s up in Samia’s life, this was Samia’s response: “I was originally born and raised in Dhaka, Bangladesh until I was eleven. Some of my fondest memories from back then takes place in my grandparents’ village. It would take forever to get to the small town and the thin roads were always surrounded by bright fields of mustard, rice, wheat, and maize plants. Soon when I moved to a large suburban city in LA, California, I realized how much I had appreciated seeing those views once or twice every year. I think this yearning to recreate the same happy memories led me to get over my superstition that I had the opposite of a green thumb. I started growing my own plants from seeds that I saved while cooking and just learning and experimenting in small scale. The first time I visited the knoll, it was like love at first sight.”

Raechel (she/her/hers) hails from Ashe County, North Carolina. An ultimate frisbee player, conservation biologist, flower enthusiast, brassica-skeptic, and short king. “I grew up in the woods in Western NC and have always found myself most comfortable close to trees and water,” said Raechel. “My dad always kept a large garden in the summer and getting my hands into the soil with him and reaping the rewards at the dinner table gave me a forever love of growing food, even though most of the agriculture in my hometown was Christmas tree farming. I’m especially interested in perennial agriculture and loved my internship last summer working with the New Perennials Project and am beyond excited to build on that experience and spend time in the sun at the Knoll this summer!”

Day (they/them/theirs) calls the South home but now lives in Middlebury! They are a rising sophomore studying neuroscience and gender/feminist studies. Day is a certified tree-hugger, fan of fantasy books, and coffee drinker. They shared, “I have been gardening for most of my life and am a big animal lover as well as a plant-parent. My favorite activities involve the outdoors (swimming, hiking, biking) and I feel the most grounded when I am outside in the dirt. The environment impacts every aspect of my life from my studies to my family to my diet. I know that I am just one part of a huge planet and I live my life with the earth as my center.”

Andrés (he/him/his), of Los Angeles, California, is a rising junior studying Environmental Justice. He describes himself as a rebel rouser (the good kind), a lover of people and nature, an un-learner and learner, and a coffee aficionado. When asked how nature shows up in his life, this is what he said: “The outdoors have always been a space for me to take a breath in this fast-paced world (sometimes… not always). It’s important to me that I do everything in my capacity to make these garden/farm/outdoor spaces warmer, brighter, kinder, and more comfortable for others, so that the option to enjoy these spaces is always there. I’m certain that my time at the Knoll will give me the tools and experience needed to build liberating outdoor spaces.”

A brief hello from the 2021 Knoll interns!

As the growing season begins, the Knoll at Middlebury College is excited to introduce its new cohort of interns! These wonderful folks will be gardening alongside our volunteers, in addition to taking on some cool independent projects. Feel free to say hi if you see them around campus… they don’t bite! In fact, they are probably some of the kindest people you’ll ever meet (not an exaggeration whatsoever). 

Andrés (he/him/his), of Los Angeles, California, is a sophomore studying Environmental Justice. He describes himself as a rebel rouser (the good kind), a lover of people and nature, an un-learner and learner, and a coffee aficionado. When asked how nature shows up in his life, this is what he said: “I’ve always had a complicated relationship with nature and the great outdoors. I’ve always found peace and comfort outside… being able to reflect more intentionally among Joshua Trees, amongst the wildlife of the Pacific Ocean, or on long strolls to the Knoll! At the same time, however, all of the nature around us is deeply embedded with histories of harm and oppression. Frankly, the outdoors, nature, farming–whatever you wanna call it–shows up as a place of conflict in my life, and I’m working through that and with it every day. I’m certain that my time at the Knoll will help me in forming my relationship with the nature around me.” 

Samia (no pronouns, just Samia), of Dhaka, Bangladesh + Los Angeles, California, is a first-year studying neuroscience and psychology. Samia is an extroverted introvert, someone who loves listening to people’s stories and connecting them to Samia’s own life. This process shows Samia how interconnected all of our lives are, without even knowing. When asked how nature show’s up in Samia’s life, this was Samia’s response: I was originally born and raised in Dhaka, Bangladesh until I was eleven. Some of my fondest memories from back then takes place in my grandparents’ village. It would take forever to get to the small town and the thin roads were always surrounded by bright fields of mustard, rice, wheat, and maize plants. Soon when I moved to a large suburban city in LA, California, I realized how much I had appreciated seeing those views once or twice every year. I think this yearning to recreate the same happy memories led me to get over my superstition that I had the opposite of a green thumb. I started growing my own plants from seeds that I saved while cooking and just learning and experimenting in small scale. The first time I visited the knoll, it was like love at first sight.”

Isabela (she/her/hers), of Bakersfield, California, is a sophomore studying International and Global Studies, with a focus on gender and sexuality studies. She loves breakfast food, checking the mailbox, and laughing at almost anything and everything. When asked how nature shows up in her life, Isabela said: “I’ve been lucky enough to have nature show up in a lot of different aspects of my life, and the most special times have always been with friends, family, and at work. Since I was young, my mom has always encouraged me to spend time outdoors and getting to know different outdoor spaces with friends is really what grounds me to my home in Bakersfield. Exploring outside has also done the same for me here at Midd! My favorite outdoor activities include gardening (especially at the knoll!), hiking, swimming, and laying in the grass under the sun.”

David (he/him/his), of Montclair, New Jersey (bagels), is a sophomore feb studying Conservation Biology. He’s a rock-climber, pizza-making expert, one-time winner of the Roald Dahl book collection giveaway, lover of the choccy milk machine, and identifies with Tradescantia zebrina (a plant). When asked how nature show’s up in his life, David said: “My mother tells me that as a child, I used to walk around the park giving people pretty leaves. In high school, I slept in my yard for consecutive two months. My favorite study spots are atop the sugar maples near BiHall, and I could not be more grateful to be a part of the most wonderful place at Midd.”

Tashi (she/her/hers), of Queens, New York + Kathmandu, Nepal, is a first-year interested in Global Studies with a focus on Environmental Change and a minor in Food Studies. Tashi is super passionate about food and is an aspiring food/boba connoisseur. When asked how nature showed up in her life, Tashi said: “Having spent most of my childhood in Nepal I am deeply fascinated by sustainable agriculture and how it can be implemented to help mitigate the negative effects of global climate change.”

Hannah (she/her/hers), of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a sophomore studying Dance and Anthropology. Hannah is a lover of movement, soil, bright colors, dark chocolate, and desert sky. When asked how nature shows up in her life, Hannah shared: “My life is devoted to the more-than-human world, to the relationships with landscape both wide and intricate. Barefoot outside, with trees and wind, is where I learn the best, feel the most myself, and have all my heart to offer. Gardening was an unnoticed privilege in my life until I came to Midd, where it has become one of my most cherished places of education, story, and breath. To grow and be grown, to really work, to speak the language of seasonal magic, to deeply trust that I am inside a living earth — and damn is it beautiful — this is what gardening returns to me, time and time again.”

Please reach out to us if you have any questions (Knoll related or otherwise). See you at the garden!

Garden Volunteer Hours: Frequently Pondered Questions

(because the questions we ask can be different from the ones we’re thinking about)

What are garden volunteer hours?

Garden volunteer hours provide a structure for embodied practice of tending soil, place, plant and animal kin, in community. We welcome everyone to join the learning and the doing, and each session will offer a number of different tasks and projects so individuals can choose how they’d like to engage for the time. We orient and organize ourselves as a group or small groups, and we sort, sweep, tend, rake, dig, weed, move compost in wheelbarrows, prune, plant, harvest, wash and compost while we notice, observe, ask questions, admire complexity, tune in or out, feel the sunshine and the breeze, and visit together. If we want to learn about the life cycle of braconid wasps in host hornworms on a tomato harvest day, we can talk about that. If we want to chop the holy hell out of a compost pile for a half an hour, we can do that. If we want to weed quietly with the friend you came with, we can do that. The work provides a space that we can fill as you wish.

How will we hold the space?

In a care-full way. We honor the intrinsic consequentiality of our relationship with the land and its beings, and the physicality of ourselves and our interactions. We also honor the complex, deep, violent, and also joyful histories inscribed in ourselves, in our contexts and environments, in the practices we carry forward, and in the narratives around what we’re doing, who does it, and why. And the way we can reshape and reclaim narratives. The Knoll tells stories about how we consider and choose to stand in relationship to place and kin, to each other. This is the story of slowing down, observing, noticing what comes up, being humbled by the noticing, and working in the company of others to try to build that space with care and to feed each other. 

Why?

To mend and to tend and to grieve and to strive and to sweat and to feel the aliveness met with responsibility, attention, listening, and noticing that is love.

Why BIPOC affinity space?

We offer this space in conversation and collaboration with the Anderson Freeman Center. Standing in right relation to land and introducing grounded ways of embodied practice and learning means also facing the centuries and generations of oppression operationalized through policies and made manifest on bodies of color. We enter these conversations in different ways, from different places, and so we offer another space for them to be held. The affinity space sessions are facilitated by BIPOC staff and student interns. While the Knoll is not closed to others during this time, we invite others’ generosity to offer spaciousness for the group when in session. Friendly acknowledgment and space can go a long way, knowing that we all come together in so many other rich and meaningful ways on campus.

What should I bring?

Your self, as much or little as you have to bring that day, we will meet your wholeness as you are. A full water bottle. Shoes with closed toes. A snack. Some layers of clothing to pile on in case we’re doing quiet work, or to shed during the walk out or if we’re really moving. Check the weather before you come. We have a few extra rain coats and rubber boots in case. You can stash your bag in the shed if you need to. We have a portapotty on site. 

I really want to come but signups are always full…?

Please reach out to us to request to be added to our on-call volunteer list. You can also share with us your ideas about other ways to get involved: knoll@middlebury.edu. We are eager to hear and bring to light your creative ideas!

I am not yet 18, what about the waiver?

Once per academic year, participants sign a physical release form to participate. If you are not yet able to sign as an 18 year old, please email Megan in advance to coordinate signing by a guardian or parent (an email or phone call will do).

But, I haven’t/I’m not/I don’t know how to…

You are your own perfect container and so just come. The Knoll is a place for experimentation, creativity, practice, and learning by doing, from our experiences, from plants, the soil… We will try to celebrate the learnings big and small, and laugh through the mishaps big and small, and apologize when we make mistakes, big and small. If you can do that, you’re all set!

How can I learn more?

We have a small library and a number of recommended resources. You can read about the evolution of the Knoll from its student-dreamed beginnings in 2002/2003 at go/theknoll. You can reach out to one of the interns past and present, food and garden educators past and present, and here are some recommended resources from partner organizations.

Late Summer 2020 Updates from the Knoll

A note from Megan Brakeley ’06, food and garden educator at the Knoll:

WELCOME! This fall is “unconventional” in so many ways—and fluid, and full of unknowns and questions, and so I want to honor that by starting this note there. I’m excited about what we can create together this fall at the Knoll. And I’m hopeful that we can embrace this unknown in the way that we foster open conversation, ask all the questions, and think carefully about what we’re doing and why.

Here are some updates and things I think I, we, know as we look toward fall.

Please note that, during Phase 1 of the College’s re-opening, the Knoll is only available to students enrolled as in-person learners for Fall 2020. We apologize to our community, staff and faculty colleagues for any inconvenience this may cause and appreciate your understanding. Events for students at the Knoll will be considered on a very limited basis, and must directly pertain to Orientation during Phase 1. We regret to inform you that the pizza oven at the Knoll will not be available at this time. For the latest information about events, check out go/knollevents.

This summer, we worked with Renee Wells on a statement about the Knoll’s commitment to antiracist practices and supporting Black and BIPOC students. You can read this message on our website here. This has been a long time in coming. And I am very much interested in how we, together, through an intersectional lens, address food justice as it relates to land justice as they relate to food systems, sustainability, our roles at Middlebury, and more. This fall we plan to host a conversation about what this looks like in practice, how we focus energies, and how this relates to our broad theme around regeneration, which the Knoll has always been about. Please stay tuned for more info and reach out to Megan with ideas.

In spite of efforts to have student workers on-campus this summer, we pivoted in the uncertainty of this spring and instead had the great pleasure of getting to host four staff members who typically work with Midd Dining. Nancy and Jeff started just after Labor Day, and Jess and Nick started in mid June. The garden has been in great hands, and we have been busy growing and prepping for fall arrivals. You can read short intros to three of our four folks on Instagram if you missed the posts! We focused efforts on growing a smaller number of overall crops (think three 30×30′ beds of winter squash), regenerating soil health through growing cover crops, and attending to long-needed projects like path maintenance, reclaiming and planting the hugelkultur beds, and taming sumac. Most of the crops that we are growing this fall we consider “low touch,” storage crops like butternut, delicata, and kabocha squash, four varieties of potatoes, paste tomatoes, four varieties of onions, garlic, carrots, and beets. It is impossible to imagine this summer without these four dedicated, fun folks, and we were grateful to have the opportunity to share this time.

For fall—we will be able to host Volunteer Hours as usual, roughly from the period between 9/8/2020 – 11/1/2020. This year we are asking folks to sign up in advance in accordance with COVID regulations. We are also capping group size to six participants; signups and attendance will be scheduled on Presence. We are aiming to offer two-hour volunteer gardening sessions five times each week during the fall season.

In additional exciting news: we have just secured that we’re going to be able to offer PE credit at the Knoll this fall, for in-person learners who attend Volunteer Hours. Folks will need to participate in at least four sessions (at two hours each) – check out Presence for more info.

We are growing the ES 112 experiment this fall, and we will have a cut-your-own flower station set up. The grazing garden is also planted and available once in-room quarantines have lifted. We are continuing our partnership with Chief Stevens of the Nulhegan Abenaki that started in the spring of 2019. We put the corn seed saving project on hold this year due to uncertainty around our labor availability, but we are growing Abenaki dry beans. We look forward to hosting a conversation with Chief Stevens on 9/1 as a part of MiddView orientation to talk more about this partnership and share some stories.

We have also been busy harvesting seeds, dried flowers, etc. and thinking about potential creative ways for folks to engage with the Knoll from afar. Perhaps we make and send seed packets of Knoll-saved seed for others further afield? Perhaps we distribute bunches of dried flowers and materials beforehand, then hold a virtual wreath-making tutorial over Zoom? Perhaps we work on wrangling space at a Maker Space somewhere to laser engrave signage for the perennials around the garden? There is so much potential and I am eager to hear your ideas.

This is plenty to think about right now… and there’s plenty of conversation to come, but I wanted to let you know what we’ve been up to this summer and get the conversation going. I am so looking forward to welcoming new students to the fall garden, whether virtually or in-person, and to hearing about your goals and hopes for the Knoll. For some visual context, check out the Knoll’s Instagram account @middknoll.

In the meantime, safe travels and looking forward to seeing you soon!

All my best,
Megan

July at the Knoll

July came in hot, quite literally, at the Knoll. A week long heat wave in the early part of the month certainly exacerbated the drought conditions. High heat did make for some happy tomatoes and our cherries have been coming in in bright orange and red flushes. Green beans have also become a bountiful harvest yielding at least 20 lbs. of beans every few days. While most of that has gone to Atwater Catering and HOPE Food Shelf, our interns spent one afternoon making dilly beans.

Many seedlings were transplanted out in July, the majority of which were part of the brassica family. Since then, the rows of kale and collards have been harvested and brought by the case to Atwater dining. Our transplanted broccoli remains under its row cover as it matures for the ES112 class to use for experiments this fall. The interns spent a few afternoons out at the Seiler’s farm in Cornwall Vermont to help Paul Seiler transplant over 300 hemp plants. After years as a dairy farmer, Paul has decided to switch over to hemp cultivation. So far his plants are looking healthy and well-adjusted despite the hot transplanting conditions.

Garlic was harvested and hung in the middle of the month. As preventative measures due to the leak moth infestation, the tops of each plant were cut off and damaged outer layers were removed until a pristine bulb was left underneath. Bulbs were divided by variety and bunched into groups of five. They now hang from the rafters of the shed alongside our dry flowers. For days, the shed smelled of fresh garlic.

The flower beds are in full bloom at the Knoll. On more quiet afternoons, our interns have harvested and arranged bouquets to surprise some of the offices on campus. The cut your own flower stand has been set up and the team has been taught how and when to harvest each flower, so, please, come test our knowledge.

Food Works field trips were in full swing in July. Yale Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies professor, Maria Trumpler, came to Weybridge House for a cheese tasting workshop. Five different Vermont based cheeses were tried from a variety of productions of different sizes and animals. The interns were excited to participate in a formal cheese tasting and learned a lot about the complexity of cheeses. In addition to Maria Trumpler’s workshop, interns went to Golden Well sanctuary in Bristol for a workshop on food as medicine. Nicole Burke walked the interns through the five elements and their relations to the body and food. Following the workshop, interns harvested a bountiful lunch from the Golden Well farm and made salads, pesto, and frittatas. The end of the Food Works program brought interns and employers out to the Knoll for a sendoff lunch. The Knoll interns prepared a large salad and pizzas with homemade white garlic sauce, cherry tomatoes, herbs, and potatoes (all produce from the garden, of course). Interns also tested out their baking abilities in the oven and baked two blueberry pies, both of which turned out only slightly singed from the high heat. Everyone left with bellies full of our Knoll produce.