Program puts frosh on the farm

Before their first year at Yale, most freshmen buy dorm supplies, pack up their bedrooms and say goodbye to high school friends. Nir Harish ’05 picked soybeans.

Harish was one of 27 students who participated in the inaugural freshman orientation program called Harvest. Harvest, run as an off-shoot of the FOOT program, offered participants the chance to spend four days on organic farms in Connecticut and was designed to give freshmen another option for pre-Yale outdoor fun.

“I thought it was a completely amazing experience,” said Harish, who wanted to try his hand at farming in part because his names in Hebrew mean “plowing” and “plowed fields.” “Everybody agreed it was a great way to prepare for coming to Yale.”

Ian Cheney ’02, a Harvest coordinator, said one objective of the program is to give students who wanted a outdoor orientation experience a slightly less rugged alternative to FOOT, which organizes backpacking trips. Harvest participants slept in barns and had access to showers, amenities not available on FOOT trips.

But the new program also has a community-minded purpose.

“[Harvest is] aiming to give Yale students a sense of where their food comes from and what Connecticut farms are like,” Cheney said.

Three groups each composed of nine freshmen and two upperclassmen leaders worked at Northfordy Farm in North Branford, Old Maid’s Farm in Glastonbury and Lamonica Farm in Suffield.

Each day on the Harvest trip began with breakfast in the barn, though at what time the freshmen could not say because the leaders confiscated their watches. Then students worked shifts in the fields harvesting tomatoes, picking weeds, gathering summer squash, picking wildflower seeds or milking goats. Next came lunch and siesta in the fields under shade trees.

Following afternoon shifts in the fields, the group prepared dinner with ingredients they had picked that day. A little revelry in the barns usually preceded bedtime.

“I never thought I’d tell ghost stories in a barn in the middle of nowhere,” Lorena Loew ’05 said.

Another one of Loew’s favorite Harvest memories also involved nocturnal barn antics.

“We wrote a song about Harvest,” Loew said. “When we all sang it for the first time, it was really memorable.”

Freshmen were notified about the Harvest program by an insert into the FOOT brochure that was mailed this summer.

Cheney said the FOOT program had been looking to expand in recent years. Harvest coordinators recognized the draw of FOOT was “doing something out of the ordinary, out-of-doors and intense,” Cheney said.

Harvest was able to copy that model, but gave freshmen some added amenities, Cheney said.

Cheney said he believes the success of this first Harvest means the trips will continue in future years.

“It’s my hope to even expand the program,” Cheney said. “The kids, farmers and leaders all had a great time.”

The trips would become a regular feature of the Yale freshman experience if Loew had her way: “Sleeping in a barn, picking vegetables, getting all dirty — it was wonderful.”

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