Though we already have two chickens from Waterpenny Farm, Ben wanted a few more to round out the urban flock (he's seriously attached, which is actually quite sweet). I went up with him to Sperryville a week and a half ago to pick up the recently arrived pullets on the farm, and, just as I expected, it was a strange trip. It was the first time I had been back to the farm since my job ended there last November, and since then my only real update about that world dealt with the fact that my co-worker, Liz, had asked our bosses for a letter of recommendation this spring, they said they would and "good luck" too, and then the place where she applied emailed her back and attached the terrible recommendation they wrote: calling her rude, unfriendly, immature. Needless to say, having Liz tell me that had only caused my resentment about the farm experience to resurface --that just made it even more glaringly obvious that those people are completely out of touch with reality. That's all good and well but for the fact that they manage others, and so we all suffered as a result.
Before Ben and I left the farm with our chickens, I went up to the house to briefly chat with Rachel. When I politely asked her how the season was going (in terms of the veggies), her tactless reply was, "Oh, SO much better than last season. We have a wonderful group of interns this time; really motivated and easygoing. It feels like we're finally back to having a normal season, now that the personality clashes of early last season aren't making things difficult."
Well. My response to that follows:
Dear Eric and Rachel,
Thanks for letting me and Ben come up to the farm this weekend and get two more chickens for our slowly growing urban flock (actually, the neighbors just a few houses down have about six, and there's apparently an organization in town called CLUCK -- Charlottesville League of Urban Chicken Keepers -- so it looks like we're in good company!). To be completely honest, though, returning to Waterpenny was a strange experience in that it brought back quite a few unhappy memories. I've been mulling over my visit since Saturday and have realized that there are a few things I need to share with you.
I'm glad this season is going much more smoothly than last (it probably wouldn't take much for that to be the case), but I was surprised and saddened to hear that Rachel believed that the problems of last season were attributed to personality clashes early on. I agree that things got off to a very rocky start, and that the strong personalities made the internship far more challenging than it otherwise would have been to begin with, but I think the problems not only persisted but actually worsened long after Reuben's departure. I was fortunate to only rarely be on the receiving end, but I witnessed and experienced dehumanizing confrontations from your most experienced worker throughout the following seven months.
I know that Steffany is a strong and capable worker, and that was important early on in light of the fact that the rest of us were all brand new to farming; however, her appalling communication skills completely undermined her credibility as a leader and guide for the rest of us in the field. Those sorely lacking communication skills can in large part explain our constant battle with efficiency: Steffany was insistent at giving us directions, yet often incapable of concisely explaining those directions. As we struggled to understand what she was trying to convey, her emotions nearly always escalated into anger towards us, which caused a general feeling of defensiveness and more time lost before we resolved the confusion. This time sinking scenario played itself out countless times; often, incomprehensibly, in the same setting as the previous confrontation.
In hindsight, I think that you and Steffany should have established clarity in the role she was expected to play, or assumed of her own accord. There was a discrepancy between our view of her (as a fellow intern), your view of her (as an accomplished farmer that could provide counsel while we learned and grew on the job), and her view of the experience (as someone that wanted a less demanding year but inexplicably felt compelled to manage anyway). I'm disappointed that those discrepancies were never resolved, particularly as they became the source of much resentment and hostility as the season continued.
Good luck with the 2009 season, and with avoiding future intern dysfunction.
So that's that. I don't know if I'll ever actually send that letter, but I needed to at least get my thoughts organized so the mere mention of Waterpenny didn't just immediately fill me with resentment. I hope that eventually I can let go of the bitterness I feel when recalling some of the absolutely sickening things Steffany said and did to my co-workers, or when recalling Eric and Rachel's virtual love affair with her (because, again, they're out of touch with reality). I want to be able to think back to my Waterpenny internship as a valuable learning experience, and to put that knowledge gained to good use. After all, I'm optimistic about my basil, lettuce, squash, cherry tomato and tomato plants this season.