Midland's Farm and Garden Program as a Benefit to Mental Health

How the Farm Changes You

An Interview with Midland Student Mattox '24

Midland students work on the farm

Midland students Kielson ’25, Bryce ’24 and Mattox ’24 work on the farm.

Mattox ‘24 is an integral supporter of the Midland Farm & Garden. She’s been involved in Farm Internship, Farm Crew and Experiential Saturday farm activities. However, Mattox didn’t come to Midland with sights set on gardening. Read about her experience and how she’s come to love learning on the Midland farm. 

How did you first get involved in the Midland farm & garden? 

I hated the idea of gardening at first. I swore to my parents I would never step foot on the farm, nothing about it appealed to me.  However, in my ninth grade year, there was a junior who I was really close with in Farm Internship who insisted I come out with her because my free periods overlapped with her internship block. I put it off for a majority of the year, claiming I had homework.

One day, I was having a pretty bad day and the junior invited me to tag along with her, once again, to hang out in the sun and sort beans with her. At that time, the farm internship section had only two students, plus the Farm Manager. It was surprisingly a lot of fun. We planted lettuce, which I’d never done before, dug some holes, and sorted beans that would end up going to the kitchen and we would eat for the rest of the year. 

It was an aspect of the world that I had never participated with or in before, and it had so much complexity that sparked my interest. I wanted to learn more because I hadn’t been exposed to it. Throughout the rest of my freshman year, I would go to the Farm Internship blocks I had free, continuing to learn more and more about the farm each time I was there. At the end of the semester, I found myself heading out to the farm even if my junior friend wasn’t there any more.

Michael Sibalski, Midland Farm Manager & Educator

Michael Sibalski, Midland Farm Manager & Educator

And you stayed involved into your sophomore year? 

I actually signed up to try a couple other electives, and I didn’t get into any of those. But I got placed in Farm Internship with Michael, Midland’s new Farm Manager & Educator. Our first class, we got some crates and sat around in a circle to talk about what knowledge and experiences we were bringing to the table. I was the youngest, with the least amount of knowledge; the rest of the class were mostly upperclassmen that I didn’t really know, who had worked out on the farm before. It took me a week or so to figure out the pace and what the tasks we would be doing were, but for the most part, we were all able to have fun, gain a connection to the farm, and learn many aspects of Agriculture and what Ag. can do for our community.

Whatever we would do, from cleaning tools, planting seeds, or learning about fruit trees, we were able to laugh and make the 90 minutes of the farm the most enjoyable part of the day. The joy and lightheartedness that radiated from the farm allowed me to decompress from my day and process through everything happening within my busy Midland schedule. It was a hands-on experience out there, and I loved it.

My sophomore year I learned so much. From field trips to see other farms and the Vermiculture processes to planting rows and rows of different crops, I was able to gain familiarity with the farm. Not only did I learn something new every time I set foot on the farm, it also was really beneficial to my mental health, and connection to an aspect of Midland I never expected myself to be a part of.  

Now, I really see you as a leader and huge proponent of the farm. Did you actually sign up for Farm Internship the third year round? 

I was in Farm Internship for two semesters in my sophomore year. This year I actually signed up for Farm Internship. Not only do I just enjoy being out there, the farm has now become one of my safe spaces where I go when I need a break from Middle Yard. Sometimes, Middle Yard can be so congested with people and social drama, and the farm is a nice break from that. The many aspects of the farm allow it to be an environment to escape to, if you’re looking for a good laugh, Farm Internship and Micheal have got you covered. If you want some alone time, the pergola my class built is there and a great place to do homework. There is always something to do or learn out there, from flipping compost piles in the tractor, or planting tiny lettuce seeds that you will watch grow for the next month. Being out at the farm is  a great way to interact with nature in a simple, yet complex way that can have any level of involvement you want. 

What are some of your best memories of being on the farm? 

There’s so many to choose from. One time, at the end of the first semester last year, there was an endless supply of melons. Too many to count, but enough to eat yourself sick. At the end of internship on really hot days, we would break open a bucket of frozen strawberries, cut open the melons, harvest mint, and create some of the best smoothies I have ever had.

Another is this year, when my job crew first started going out to the farm in the mornings. We would be half asleep and frozen, yet it was one of the greatest ways to start my day.

Mattox '24 harvests carrots with Bryce '24 and Simon '25.

Mattox harvests carrots with Bryce and Simon ’25.

Tell me about being on Farm Crew for a job. 

I’m not a morning person by any means. My ideal day starts with me getting up around 9 or 10 in the morning, but at Midland, starting your day early is actually a beautiful way to start your day. Farm crew is made up of four students. This semester,  it’s a student from each grade. We all meet at Stillman for breakfast, and leave around 7:25. Before we head out to the farm, the head of the farm crew, Zoe ‘23 or I will check in with Gloria to get the kitchen’s ‘order’ for the farm. With our list of veggies the kitchen wants, our Gorilla cart, and a cup of hot chocolate or coffee, we all wander out to the farm, trying to shake the sleep from our bodies as we walk. If it’s really cold or wet like it’s been recently, we’ll huddle around in a circle talking about what each person is going to get, and eventually work up enough courage to face the temperature. We split up to do our respective jobs, such as harvesting a box or two of lettuce or squash, or watering the greenhouse, gathering eggs, and feeding the chickens. There are a lot of jokes, fog, dew, music, Carhartt jackets, beautiful sky colors, and smiles in our mornings. How else would you want to start off your day!?

It’s been really amazing because with this experience, I can now lead the Experiential Saturday groups. I feel like I can now pass on what I’ve learned and share the beauty of the farm. 

Has being on the farm affected you in your personal journey? 

The Midland farm has opened my eyes to a different view of the world. Right now, I’m looking into agriculture-based and outdoor-based college experiences. This year I was put on Farm Crew for my job, and that role has allowed me to step into a place of leadership and, in a way, ownership of the farm. 

Another aspect of being out at the farm is being able to share your love of it, and teach others. I, along with other students in farm internship, are able to lead Experiential Saturday crews to harvest for organizations like Veggie Rescue. I’m now one of the upper classmen who’s able to teach underclassmen about the farm, and hopefully share an aspect of Midland which has helped me find myself, as well as figure out where I want to go with my future.

Veggie Rescue van getting filled with Midland School's fresh produce.

Veggie Rescue van getting filled with Midland School’s fresh produce.

The sense of purpose I have found in the farm program has helped me in so many different ways, it’s hard to explain. Not only have I grown as a person since I first started showing up to the farm, but I have found my happy place, my voice, and it’s enabled me to learn how to love the place I’m at in life. In ten years will I be back at Midland harvesting carrots in frozen mud laughing at how cold it is? Probably not, but I will be a person who was able to appreciate the small things in life like a beautiful sunrise, or how the frost sparkles in the morning light. When you’re a teenager, you’re trying to figure out how to not only love yourself, but the world around you, and not take any moments for granted. The farm, the people I’ve interacted with on the farm, and the experiences I’ve had out there have all helped me learn what type of person I aspire to be, and how to take in the world through eyes of curiosity and wonder. 

Thank you Mattox, for taking this time to share about your experience. Readers, did you know that participating in the Midland farm & garden is now a graduation requirement, starting for the Class of 2025? Read more at the link below. 

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