The small organic farm at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods packs a big punch in the way of educational and service opportunities.
In fact, that’s how Ann Testa came to White Violet Center for Eco-Justice. She was an intern and AmeriCorps volunteer before becoming a full-time staff member.
Now she’s training and working alongside interns and volunteers in the USDA certified organic gardens, alpaca pastures, fiber rooms, and kitchen.
“White Violet is like this little magic fountain. It heals what ails you,” Ann said. “There’re obstacles for everyone, no matter who you are or where you are. For the interns and volunteers, I hope they feel the healing aspect of this place and then go forth and do good.”
Ann knows about doing good, herself. Her daily work has as many layers as an onion, but she likes to think of it as an entertaining ride.
“It’s like a carousel,” Ann said. “The view is always different every few feet. Things change with the seasons.”
This time of year, Ann spends more time with the alpacas and chickens, fiber program and garden office work.
“It’s time to breathe,” she said about this season. “I’m going at a normal pace.”
Starting seedlings in the greenhouse is her favorite winter activity.
“That is the best!” she said. “When you’re all bundled up to get to the greenhouse and then you take everything off because it’s warm and humid in the greenhouse. And it’s green everywhere.
“You pick up the water wand and tell the plants they’ll be able to play outside soon.”
Looking toward spring
Due to the uncertainty of the weather, it’s all hurry up and wait in the spring. The ground is too frozen or too muddy. Then there’s the times when there is more work than people to do the work.
“Spring and summer is just go, go, go, go, go,” she said. “It seems like we’re doing everything at once — seeding in the fields, transplanting, seeding in the greenhouse, harvesting, and training new interns and volunteers.”
Also, the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program begins in May.
One nugget Ann took away from a session at the MOSES conference last year was to: “Trust your winter brain. Use your winter brain.” That mantra refers to when gardeners are in the busy seasons, it’s important to rely on the planning and organizing accomplished during the winter months when you had time to think.
A major focus in the fall months is trying to prolong the life of vegetables grown at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
“I want to dehydrate more tomatoes and pickle everything,” Ann said. “Cucumbers, of course. I have big dreams of pickling cherry tomatoes and pickling green tomatoes, for that matter. Ooooo, pickled green beans and beats. I want to pickle everything!”
When Ann is working in White Violet Center’s new commercial kitchen, she pulls from the 8 years she worked as a cook and sous chef at various restaurants in Chicago back in the ’90s.
“It’s returning to my cooking roots,” she said. “To be able to fully use our produce and have another outlet for our ugly produce is great.”
But for now, in these winter months when she’s dealing with cold temperatures, snow and ice, Ann is glad to have some time to breathe. A most ideal evening for her includes “some wine, a big bowl of soup, some Dr. Who, a spinning wheel, and a good book.”
Sounds great, Ann. You deserve it.