Carolyn’s Testimonial: A Year at Merck Forest

Carolyn planting the gardens in the late spring.
Carolyn planting the gardens in the late spring.

When I arrived in Rupert in January 2013, my hope was that I would gain the skills during the coming year to eventually run a homestead of my own. My secondary goal was to be directly involved in agriculture so as to integrate responsible land use with a career in environmental problem solving.

During the year, the depth and breadth of opportunities for learning have blown my mind. At work, I’ve cried in frustration while learning how to harness and drive the horses or when that darned piece of equipment just won’t work; and I’ve laughed while chasing muddy pigs around the farm yard, working in the woods with the teen trail crew, playing farm games with kindergartners or simply eating lunch with the farm staff. I’ve found peace in the sugarbush, hayfields and berries, and been given a run for my money with the goats and rams. One of my most adventurous commutes occurred in March, when Old Town Road iced over so badly that we had to slide to work most of the way from the Lodge on our behinds. The same day, the wind was so strong that it blew me into a snow bank. Working at Merck has been nothing if not new, daring and wonderfully funny at times.

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Living at the Lodge has been a joy and a complement to working on the farm and in the forest, especially given my interest in homesteading. This winter, we tapped 15 trees behind the house and learned to boil sap ‘the old fashioned way’. Sitting outside at sunset or under a starry winter sky, watching steam rise off the pots (which eventually gave us three gallons of homemade maple syrup) was magical. After our fall harvest, I’m up to my ears in canned and blanched foods ready to be eaten this winter- a result of learning from my housemates and books. Installing and living with solar power is prompting me to think seriously about integrating a similar system into my own future. And, there’s really no better way to end a day than curled up by a woodstove with a good book and a cup of tea.

I can say with certainty that working at Merck has taught me more skills that will be relevant to my future than any other employer. Yes, we work with livestock and grow high quality food, engage with the public as well as drive tractors and make hay- all of which have been extremely satisfying. I can now comfortably use a chainsaw and a crosscut saw. And working with draft power has been one of my favorite parts of the apprenticeship. But the less flashy aspects of the apprenticeship have also been valuable. Before January, I had no idea how to fix most broken implements, or do basic carpentry, or maintain vehicles or use a plow truck. Those skills, which should be a part of high school or college (and are not) will be relevant to me for the rest of my life.

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When I describe my experience at Merck to family and friends, I say that this year has been like getting a degree in farming and life skills. And it’s also wonderful to know that our work here is integral to Merck. As a farm staff of five, three of whom are apprentices, the farm really relies on apprentice power to function year-round. Now that’s what I call a win-win situation.