Author Archives: olivia

About olivia

Currently majoring in Farm and Food Systems at Greenfield Community College.

Abundance at Rockridge Retirement Community

photo 4 copy( Above is Ian putting in shallots)

photo 3 copy

(Above Photo: The New Beds )


I am not sure how to express the amount of learning that has occurred and knowledge obtained throughout this semester! I will try to capture the feeling in words.

For the past semester and a half Ian Walton and myself have been working on creating a small scale food system for Rockridge Retirement Community in Northampton, Ma. The idea being that the kitchen staff and residents can have full access to food from a garden.  The kitchen can easily access the garden beds due to their proximate location–this ease of access will help the integration of produce into the meals served at the community.

Ian and have spent hours going over what the constraints were for the project and how to keep it sustainable and a cyclical system. We proposed to Rockridge, back in the fall, that we create a guidebook for future volunteers, interns, staff and residents. Throughout this process Ian and I have been conscientious of bringing the knowledge we have learned in the Farm & Food Systems program at GCC to help us. We have sourced all our materials locally and through donations. The amount of support we have received and encouragement is invaluable. It is amazing just how much people are willing to help if you just ask.

The other amazing aspect of this internship is getting to know the residents at Rockridge. I have befriended a few and ones whom I see regularly. Their reception to our work in the garden is wonderful to see progress over the last few months. The other day I was out working and I saw Miriam, a regular that I run into and have struck up a friendship with. She helped me plant pansies and violas (donated by Andrews Greenhouse) for Mothers Day. We planted in the beds and put them in big pots and sat and chatted for hours. It was such a wonderful exchange. She was telling me about her history and her trials and tribulations in life and we were both just enjoying each others’ company. It is very apparent that  a lot of the residents don’t get enough company. It is such a warm feeling to see them light up when they are given the chance to be heard. photo 5 copy(Above is a photo of Miriam planting pansies)

Currently sprouting in the beds are: Peas, Leeks, Scallions, Shallots, Romaine Lettuce, Chives, Times, Spinach, Oregano, Mint, Mesclun mix and Cabbage.  We have a big planting day May 30th where we will put the rest of the plants into the ground. Once that is done we will then focus our attention on creating a system for weed and water maintenance. Along with that we will be documenting and finishing up our guidebook.

It is my hope that as this internship winds down, that we will have helped Rockridge succeed in maintaining this system. I will be contributing volunteer hours throughout the summer to see the garden to harvest. However after that, there will be a need for regular volunteers and interns to help maintain and scale up the system. It is a wonderful place to be and this project is just constantly growing and moving in directions that are above what is expected! I am putting the call out to everyone on this blog site who might be interested to contact me.

I want to give a huge Thank You to Ian for being a wonderful partner! I also want to Thank everyone else for contributing to the success of this internship.





On a Whim

Today was such a productive Monday, following a very unproductive Saturday and Sunday. The weekend and my plans slipped away. However I woke up today determined to get things done!

Ian and I are trying very hard to keep this internship at lowest cost possible. We are actively sourcing, acquiring and making materials so that we don’t have to spend unnecessarily. Plus, it is like one big giant treasure hunt and puzzle figuring what fits and where to go. About a week and half ago Ian and I purchased the seeds from High Mowing and last, I believe, Wednesday they arrived. Very relieving news because we need to start planting so we can have starts for transplanting once the ground thaws and shows itself. With this in mind we realized we needed a good amount of soil to do such a task.

Ian brought to the table an option to use his father’s soil from a digging project that has left heaps of dirt behind. We decided that’s what we’d use. We then talked with Tony Reiber, Soil Science instructor at GCC, about what soil we were thinking of using on our plant starts. We told him about Ian’s father’s soil, and he immediately said ” you have to be careful of the weed pressure.”  What he was saying is that there could be a lot of weed seeds mixed in with the exposed soil. It really didn’t even occur to Ian or myself that this could pose a problem. It definitely would be one a big problem for maintaing weed growth in the gardens.

Ian remembered seeing the spot where the soil supposedly was being covered with weeds. So we went back to the drawing board. Our constraint now (being that we had already submitted the budget so we could not add potting soil to the cost) and NOW the seeds are already here, anxiously waiting to get planted. So I suggested seeing if we could get some soil donated by local farm and garden centers. Rockridge has a contract with Martins Farm in Greenfield that picks up their compost weekly. I pitched that we try to get in contact with them and see if we can recycle “their” compost back to Rockridge (talk about a closed loop system). That question is being worked on right now by the Head of Dinning Services. Hopefully we will be able to work with Martin’s down the road and have some nice compost to work with too.

Ok, now the preamble is over and the point of my story comes into play. (all above is important…just to note).

Today I was driving back from an interview in Northampton; I was driving along thinking about all the things I didn’t do this weekend and how am I supposed to catch up with my very fast paced life, when on a whim I pulled my car into the Hadley Garden Center and told myself I am going to go get some soil donated. I went in and ask the lady at the front desk who can I speak to about donations and do you do donations? She called Tom who came striding in with a huge smile on his face and said “What can I do for you?” I told him what I was doing and about GCC Farm and Food Systems Program and how I am working with Rockridge Retirement Community that is non-profit and that I am creating a garden for the use of residents, dinning service and staff. He stopped me and said, “What do you need?” I said sheepishly that I needed potting soil. He then proceeded take to a wide variety of potting soils and said, “Here is what you need, how many bags you want?” I said “two.” He grabbed two brought me back to the counter filled out a little slip, brought the bags to my car put them in and said. “To be honest I thought you were looking for a job. Do you need a job? ” I told him I was following up on some other ones but if they fall through I will definitely be back. I then thanked him and was on my way. THERE IT IS SO SIMPLE. TWO FREE DONATED BAGS OF TOP NOTCH POTTING SOIL! I was amazed. I have now been given a little more hope and confirmation that what I am doing will inspire others to help and change the system. THANK YOU Tom from Hadley Garden Center!

I now conclude my story with these words instilled in my head by wise old grandmother, “There is absolutely no shame in asking.”  Thank you for reading.


Olivia and Ian here,

O: On Friday January 17th, Ian and myself presented all the rough drafted material we had to the chefs, Kelly, Brenda and (lucky us) the Executive Director of Rockridge, Beth. Included was a budget and list of all plants we were thinking of growing, little information blurbs about each species and the guidebook. It was wonderful to see the enthusiasm and excitement on everyones’ faces when they looked at the work we have done. One Chef, Will, took a look at the amount of plants we were thinking of growing and point blank questioned,  “you’re gonna grow all this?”  we replied, ” yes, yes we are.”

I: Our biggest challenge seems to be balancing expanding and growing more things, while assuring that everything we create is manageable.  Olivia and I will be interning through the spring semester, and we each plan on devoting enough time to take care of anything we create during 2014. We also are creating an informational guide for the community to reference in order to be informed about how to take care of their gardens. The goal is to establish a system that is productive but also low maintenance, consists of plants that are useful to the kitchen, and is set up to succeed. What that means to all of us involved is that when Olivia and I move on to other projects, whoever follows us (ideally more interns from GCC and possibly also the five colleges) have infrastructure in place to work from in order to keep a functional system operating. Rockridge hopes to make strong connections with the agricultural departments with the surrounding schools in order to have consistent internships to manage their gardens.

O: Our breakthrough at the meeting and the most exciting news is that we are approved to expand the garden, that means we can grow more! We now have two more sites in which to work with. One site specifically that Ian and I are psyched to work with is a small triangle where we are thinking of planting a Three Sisters garden of beans, corn and squash. The three women in attendance at the meeting were beyond joyous at this idea. Next steps for this project is designing the expanded area, finalizing where we are going to get seeds and proposing a final budget. Lets get working!!!!!!! Happy January!photo








Fall 2013: Here lay the current garden at the Northampton Rockridge Retirement Community. They have fifteen beds with an array of different community planted and donated herbs and flowers. Most of the beds are vacant, they were once planted with annual vegetable produce. Ian Walton and I are tasked with recreating a low maintence , high production annual and possible perennial vegetable garden to be utilized by the chefs, residents and visitors of the community. We just recently put the garden to bed using, a lasagna composting layering technique where we first took out all dead/ annual/ unwanted plants, dead headed them and cleared them from the bed. Then proceeded to place compost from a local horse farm donated and free! After that we placed cardboard and hay on to beds to provide an insulating layer. The idea behind this layering technique is to boost the organic matter and contain the soil within the beds over winter. imageThis is mid process. photo Here is what it looks like after all hay is finally dispersed.

Coming to the End

Last week I presented to the Just Roots education committee. It went wonderfully. I was please with the outcome and though I struggled through grasping what was wanted from in the end they seemed please and inspired which is what I hoped for. Ultimately the idea that resounded through all is making this plot and ageless sanctuary of art and learning. I believe this is entirely possible with the right go getters and the intrigue of the community. So I look forward in seeing what comes out it.

I am now winding down my final documents for this internship and am reflecting on my past 90 hours of work, done for Just Roots. Well almost 90. I am so grateful that I was giving this opportunity to explore an different area of my thinking capacity. I did not know I had in me to do all that I have done. I truly recommend to all you students out there to tap into the Internships that are being offered at GCC. This was my first and it will not be my last.

The Boston School Yard Initiative

Throughout this internship, I kept thinking to myself how do I simplify this project to make it accessibly, easy to grasp and provide an outcome. One of my objectives was to find a case study to use as a possible prototype for the Just Roots Educational Plot. I thought first of The Hitchcock Center in Amherst. However that takes more the approach of living in nature and identifying plants, animals and survival techniques. I realized that what Just Roots was looking for was a place where farm life and natural life could coexist and be melded together to create this sanctuary of learning opportunities. So with this realization a found a place in Boston that provides designs for outdoor education centers and playgrounds. This project is springing up all over Boston, where they are incorporating all aspects of learning to the idea of a playground. I thought to myself well this is getting close. They provide on their website different formats and approaches, with lists of ideas and building items you can use to design your center. They have designs for a Natural playground, garden installations and animal husbandry projects. I thought immediately this would be such a great tool to use for Just Roots.  Its simple, concise and it is already made up… it would be up to Just Roots to fill into the check marks what they wanted to put into the Outdoor Classroom.


Andy Peck and I are currently Interns at Just Roots, we are posed with the job to gather ideas, create a plan and design an Outdoor Classroom, using Just Roots educational plot. Last Friday Andy and I trekked up to the Just Roots Community Farm. It was a raining day but we were ready to kick this thing off. We had three young troopers from the Four Corners school who came out to help us answer some question we had for them about “their ideal out door learning classroom and what it would look like?”

So on Friday the 19th we were able to do a trial run with three wonderful kids. They proved to be so informational about what they were interested in and why. They led us through the whole exploration of the wooded part of the plot. They kept piping up with these ideas for fort building, mushroom foraging, tree identifying and even a hydro classroom! I was amazing with their focus and determination to really find things that interested them. They were very eager to learn and extremely creative.

I am thrilled now that we have had kids up and exploring. I am excited to have more in the coming weeks from other schools. Anyone is welcome to come and explore with us. The more the merrier, the more knowledge the better!


Yesterday, i went with Elaine to collect milk from the local dairy farmer. At Padies, the only milk consumed in raw milk. It was a very cool experience. When we got to where the cows were being milked the cows were all lined up on the rectangular platform munching on hay as the milk was being sucked out of them. Below the platform men were fiddling with milk lines and testing the milk. In we treked with our bucket and handed it over to the men. They took it to the cow and ran a tap to the bucket. How raw can you get.  Once we got our bucket back it was still warm from the cow.

This farm in particular, does do some commercial production, however it is only to local cooperatives.  Just as it is in the states, raw milk is illegal to sell in supermarkets. However apparently ( as told by elaine’s son Olivier) you can find raw milk under bathing milk in the cosmetics aisle.

Le Chateau du Jardin de Padies

Here at Padies, which is situated in Lampaut the south country of France about an 45 minutes from ToulouI am refurbished an old renaissance  chateau, built on a heritage site. Padies is a tourist destination and national landmark.  The owners and their son are slowly cultivating the land, to produce vegetables and creating working farm systems, experimenting and trying principles of permaculture and biodynamic methods and techniques. It is just in the beginning stages of becoming a producing farm for local markets.

I have been here a little over two weeks now. I haven’t had much time to sit down and write because breaks are scarce. There is still a lot of work to be done. A learning process in its self on how to actually get the farm system up and running and having it remain sustainable is hard to predict  for the future. In my time being here, i have successfully socialized two donkeys. The idea here is to raise grass fed animal as well as using principles of rotational grazing, in order to maintain grass growth and feed for animals. However the set up of the system as a whole has some faults. The in and out of working hands is unpredictable so things often get started but not finished.

Feeding the Olives

Today Fabio, Marinella and I set about the large task of fertilizing the Olive Trees. Using natural fertilizer we worked each terrace to the top of the property. Its quite a hike and from the top the 180 degree view of the valley is spectacular.

Here is the Website for Fabio and Marinella’s Farm and Apartments.