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Volunteering on a Riverhead farm

Liz Rivalsi, left, a volunteer from Lake Grove,

Liz Rivalsi, left, a volunteer from Lake Grove, and apprentice Riley McCormick, of New Jersey, work in the field at Garden of Eve, a certified organic farm in Riverhead. (June 21, 2011) Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

Liz Rivalsi's second day volunteering is off to an early start. It's 8:35 a.m. and sunny at Garden of Eve in Riverhead. She hops on the wooden truck bed pulled by a green tractor, stacked with crates and wisps of hay.

"There was a nice breeze yesterday. It's relief," she says, as the tractor slowly makes its way across a bumpy dirt field on the 40-acre organic farm. "There's not a lot of shade."

But the 27-year-old from Lake Grove is prepared. Smudges of sunblock are still visible on her fair-skinned jaw and she carries a large jug of water.

It's all part of her five-day stay at the farm, which includes rooming at a no-frills farmhouse -- sans air-conditioning, with a twin mattress on the floor -- and fresh produce in exchange for working 81/2-hour days.

"If I'm going to be telling people what to eat, I should learn where it comes from and what the best stuff is," says Rivalsi, who is studying nutrition at New York Institute of Technology. "You get an appreciation for what farmers do and you're so much more connected to your food than going to a grocery store."

 How it works

Owners Chris and Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht have been welcoming volunteers to their farm since 2000, usually hosting about 30 people  between April and November each year. There's plenty to do -- the farm supplies 500 shares of fruit, vegetables and flowers to members of its community-supported agriculture group. There are farm stands to stock and animals to care for (goats, sheep, chickens).

Volunteers are tasked with harvesting, washing and packing produce, cutting flowers or unloading share boxes at CSA drop-off points.

"We've definitely had people who came, saw what was involved and turned around and left," says Eve. "And people who came, stayed for a week, left, and then asked if they could come back for another week."

No farm experience is necessary, but "an open mind," "eagerness to learn, and an enjoyment of being outdoors" are qualities volunteers should possess. Be sure to bring clothes and shoes that can get dirty, sunscreen, water, snacks and rain gear.

When volunteers aren't working, they can enjoy daily prepared lunches and Thursday morning yoga classes.

"It's certainly not a vacation," says Eve.

 In the field

Rivalsi is on her knees in the dirt. Her hands are stained aubergine after pulling beets and bunching them in groups secured with twist-ties. This is quiet work. Solemn almost, save for leaves flapping in the breeze and counting -- both in English and Spanish -- by the handful of farm workers and apprentices.

She kneels over head lettuce, cutting its core with a wooden-handled dinner knife. Then, it's on to slicing and bunching cilantro, which bolts on stalks nearly the entire length of her leg.

Lunch is a one-hour respite. Joe Conlon, a 23-year-old farm apprentice from Commack, sautees chopped potatoes, onions and zucchini in an oiled skillet.

"The food is something to look forward to," says Rivalsi.

Drawing to a close

After watering seeds potted in grids at a large greenhouse, Rivalsi heads to the processing plant. There, she and other workers rinse the day's harvest in black rubber tubs.

"It's nice, because it's hot outside and we're in here with the cool water," she says. "But my back is starting to feel it though, being hunched over."

Conlon says the hard work has a big payoff. "At the end of the day, you're so happy. You get to see all of it -- what you've done," he says. Rivalsi agrees. Dunking turnips into the water, she smiles and says, "You feel like you've earned your sleep."

Volunteering at Garden of Eve

WHEN | WHERE 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily by appointment, 4558 Sound Ave., Riverhead.
INFO 631-722-8777, gardenofevefarm.com; email farmer@gardenofeve.com

 

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