Student Researcher Diaries

At the conclusion of the 2018 Winter Session , each student team member spent some time reflecting on their experiences in doing the intensive project. Below are their "researcher diaries," explaining what they gained from doing the project.

I moved to the Hudson Valley when I was 17 to attend Bard College. I’m now finishing my last semester as a Computer Science major and Experimental Humanities (EH) concentrator. EH accidentally become a part of my life and academic experience at Bard College. It is one of the best accidents that happened during my time at Bard. It has helped me learn more than I expected to and widen my horizons to explore areas of humanities and the community I am surrounded by. The Apple Winter-Session Project with EH is a project I became a part of and it has allowed me to not only discover the beauty of the Hudson Valley but also let me dive right into it.

The Apple Project is about apples (as the name would imply). However, at its core (ha!) it is about this lovely little place with a rich history and the dynamic people who helped create it and continue to cultivate it. The apple project is ongoing and can never truly be complete. I worked on the first part of it a year ago and I’m continuing it this year. I remember working on it January 2017. I spent that month doing Data Entry, and visiting apple farms, meeting with farmers, and being in the Elmendorph Inn pouring over historical documents. The lives and the history of the community surrounding Bard became a part of my life in quite an unexpected and dear way. I decided to continue this project because I can’t imagine another project I’d want to work on more during my last semester at Bard.

The apple project continued this January and will change forms, expand, and continue to grow. It has allowed me to expand the horizons of my education past the campus of Bard College (quite literally). I can’t imagine doing anything better this coming January. I am appreciative of the small part I got to play in it’s creation and for all it’s helped me learn and explore.

I sat with Doug and Talea Taylor at Montgomery Place Orchards during this project to conduct an oral history. In the kitchen in their main barn, Talea brought us cookies with sour cherry and black raspberry centers. The berries came from another local farm. I recall that they said apples are like people, like children, they represent history . They have to be taken care of and they have stories. That’s why they have names and personalities.

I’ve found that it is not possible to fully articulate the value of the Hudson Valley, the families that helped shape it (and continue to do so), and the history of the place in a way that does it justice. The apple project is an attempt to articulate a small part of this history. In this attempt I have found it becoming a part of my history as well. This January as part of this project we built a database of apple varieties and their histories. An apple is just a fruit but in the Hudson Valley it represents the passage of time.

Hi! —My name is Nick Fiorellini, a sophomore at Bard College studying Literature and Experimental Humanities, interested in the preservation of culture and its nexus to literature and print and how different groups use various mediums to foster community.

Prior to the commencement of the project, I had little understanding of what it meant to be a farmer: My knowledge was limited to stereotypes and romanticized American iconography. Throughout the two weeks of the project, I began to grasp a cultural literacy of what it meant to be a farmer. Part of this understanding came from looking through the family archives of local farmers, but I especially noticed this new cultural literacy forming after conducting an oral history with Ken Migliorelli. In the interview, Migliorelli unpacked the amalgam of hard-working complexities of farming: From technological intervention to the expectation of higher education.

A sense of community is fostered through the shared experience of intense labor a farm brings. Not all farmers grow the same crops, but each have the same or similar concerns: When the temperature drops a little too low at night; turning a profit – at wholesale, at market, and/or at their farm stand or pick-your-own; keeping up with food trends and providing up-to-date products for the consumer; and, among others, competing with other big-name, big-money farmers.

The most touching part of this project was hearing why Migliorelli does what he does: “The part I love about farming is the sexy part. It’s the growing…When I was in the Bronx, I was probably about eight- or nine-years old. My dad had this small box which was copper-lined where he kept seeds. I took out some bean seeds and I scratched the surface and put the beans in. In the middle of the summer they came out fast, nice and big with flowers and little beans. One night, I picked all the beans and we ate them for dinner.”

Farming is beautiful because birth is always in the air.

Being a part of the Apple Project has not only given me a wealth of knowledge about apples, it has given me a deeper appreciation of what it means to farm. Learning about all of the intricacies and nuances of growing food that a farmer has to understand has been a very humbling experience. Talking to Holly and Bruce Brittain of Rose Hill Farm, as well as hearing my peers’ oral histories with the other farmers, has shown me just how much of a lifestyle farming is, as opposed to simply a job. Seeing the connection that some of these farmers have with the earth is very inspiring. These farmers know so much about the way the earth functions and what plants need to thrive, and the older ones have very special perspectives that can only come from decades and decades of farming. They all seem to have so much untapped wisdom that the rest of us can really benefit from.

The project has impacted my understanding of Red Hook mostly in that it has given me a much deeper appreciation of the value of small farms and local food. The reality of farming in Red Hook, a reality that I think is shielded from many Bard students, is one that is heavily based in a sense of community. Many of these farmers have farm stands where people in the community can get their food straight from the source, many have pick your own farms, and all of them are very friendly and are involved with the larger Red Hook community. I think Red Hook is very special in that it is a farm town where there are a handful of small farms that are very locally oriented in their food production, and it is a very special thing to be able to talk to these farmers, hear the history of the town, and understand why Red Hook looks like it does now. It was extremely interesting to be able to go through the Montgomery Place archives as well as the Teator and the Losee archives, and be able to read through primary sources describing what it was like to be a farmer in Red Hook in the early twentieth century. Now that I know so much about the history of the town, have been able to hear the current farmers talk, and have been able to visit one of the farms, talk to some of the farmers, and see their operation, I feel more like a member of the community than I ever did before.

It was especially inspiring to talk to Bruce and Holly Brittain of Rose Hill farm, two people who had very little prior farming experience, come from the city and buy one of the oldest farms in the entire town from the last owner whose family had owned it since the 18th century, because it shows how young people who do not come from a farming background can come to appreciate farming and how farms simply need to adapt and be diversified in order to continue to be successful.

Small farms are not dead; far from it. They just need to be given the appreciation and support from the community that they deserve, because it doesn’t only benefit them, it benefits us as well, the people who will be getting the freshest of foods.

Even though farming is a fundamental part of American history and culture yet it is never really discussed as such. The Fraleigh family farm can be traced back before the American Revolution! America began as an agricultural society. The ethos of the American Dream, can be traced back to the philosophy that these early farmers lived by. They believed that hard work could overcome even the most dire of circumstances. The Palatines were the living embodiment of this ethos. They built farms on lands they did not own and in an environment that was completely alien to them. I could see my own struggles being reflected in their narrative but I wanted to understand what motivated them.

Talking to farmers like Chuck Mead I saw that they live by the same philosophy that the early farmers had. They work tirelessly and remain optimistic and resilient thorough unbelievable circumstances. One of the most important things that talking to Chuck helped me realize is the importance of continuing education. The Hudson Valley is not an easy place to farm, especially if your farm is small. In fact sustaining a small farm in this area is exceedingly hard. The only reason small farms have survived in the Hudson Valley at all is because of the hard work and intelligence of the farmers. They have had to stay on the cutting edge of technological changes otherwise they would not have been able to sustain themselves. Small farms are much more environmentally conscious than large farms because they have to rely on retail rather the commercial markets. They sell their products to their friends, family and neighbors so they want nothing but the highest quality produce. Now that farming is drifting away from industrialization as people want more and more transparency about the production of their food the Hudson Valley is at the forefront. Farmers like Chuck Mead or Doug Taylor never foresaw this sudden shift in public consciousness. They did not work day and night hoping that this would happen. They did it because they loved farming and they loved learning how to farm better each year.

After moving to America I found myself struggling with staying motivated in a space that was completely alien to me. I wanted to work hard because I was privileged enough to have the opportunity to pursue the American Dream. But I had only learned about the American Dream from movies. I had no idea what it truly meant. The love that farmers like Chuck and Doug have for farming taught me that the point of the American Dream is not just to achieve success but rather finding something that motivates you enough to work so hard that success becomes inevitable.