Farms near Freeport host interns
At 58, Mary Trask is loving getting her hands dirty on an organic farm just east of Freeport.
The artist, who hails from New Hampshire, is making her way across the country toward New Mexico. For the summer, she is learning all about produce. It is a new life experience for her. She gets room and board, a small stipend and winds up with plenty of stories to add to her journey in life.
Trask is one of four interns working the fields at Chestnut Cliff Farm, which is owned by Phil Bardell and his wife, Pat Leininger. The couple grow natural produce to take to farmers markets. They depend on interns to help sell the organically grown produce.
Known as "Cowboy Mary," Trask said she discovered the farm on rolling hills near the Pecatonica River via the Internet.
"I have lived all over the country, had an art gallery, but always wanted to work with organically grown produce," Trask said. "My last job was a costume designer out east. Now I get my hands dirty. I'll stay here through the growing season."
Working beside Trask in the potato field is Alec Meyer, 20, of Elgin. Meyer said living near Freeport keeps him close to his family but offers him a chance to run a sustainable farm. Meyer also entertains everyone nightly by playing guitar.
"I'm learning a lot about vegetables," Meyer, a vegan, said. "This is all about collectible knowledge - living life on the farm."
Leininger said the day begins early for the interns. They spend their days weeding, hoeing and harvesting the produce that Leininger and her husband take to farmers markets in Freeport and Rockford. The couple plants six acres of produce. They also get help from their son Trale Bardell and his fiance, Margaret Sappey.
"We harvest about 1,000 pounds of produce each week to take to market," Leininger said. "My husband and I love the personalities of the people who work for us."