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December 18, 2014
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The farmhand

Far from her home in Jordan, Nadine Fattaleh painted an Arabic welcome sign during her stay as a worker at Apple Pond Farm in Callicoon Center.
TRR photos by Linda Drollinger

By Linda Drollinger
June 18, 2014

CALLICOON CENTER, NY — Nadine Fattaleh is no shrinking violet. At 18, she left the security and familiarity of her home in Jordan to pursue an economics degree at Columbia University, decided when she got there to tack on a second major in sustainable development and now hopes to add a minor in visual arts as well. Knowing that there is a real-world gap between economic theory and practice, she signed on for an 18-day internship as a WWOOFer under the international program Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF). Fattaleh left Apple Pond Farm and Renewable Energy Center in Callicoon Center on June 4, by her own admission, a changed woman.

The internship had a dual purpose: to acquaint the student with the economics of American agriculture, particularly as applied to small, independent farms, and to teach the student practical organic farming skills and sustainable energy practices. A good internship should move its subject outside the subject’s comfort zone; by that measure, this internship was a resounding success. Nothing in Fattaleh’s urban upbringing and time at Columbia could have prepared her for what she learned to do at Apple Pond Farm. When she arrived, farm co-owners Sonja Hedlund and Dick Riseling asked her what practical skills she brought to the farm. Fattaleh said, “I can do dishes and some basic cooking.”

Animal husbandry proved the biggest challenge. Weeding came in a close second. Fattaleh found the care and feeding of sheep, goats and chickens to be almost as unnerving as parenting. She recalled going to feed the chickens one morning and hearing no sound from the coop. “I thought I might have accidentally killed them. When they finally started clucking, it was music to my ears.” She added, “An easy mistake, like leaving a gate or barn door open, can quickly result in animal injury or death.”

Amazed to find that the animals were not always passive and submissive, but had individual personalities and were sometimes difficult to manage, Fattaleh said, “The goats can be aggressive. They seem to enjoy making life difficult for me.” Singling out two that clamored to be photographed, Fattaleh characterized them as “chronic troublemakers.” Still, she claimed learning to milk goats as the most significant accomplishment of her internship and called it “a lot of fun.” And she discovered a rapport with horses that made her decide to take riding lessons.