September 30, 2010

Recent Alumna Bikes, Farms Across America

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Dakota Stranik ’10, has taken a learning-for-the-sake-of-learning approach as she bikes from east to west across the United States. Along the way, she will work at a number of farms to learn about different processes in the food and agricultural process. “[I hope to] expand my knowledge of agricultural practices, meet the people that are part of the processes, and document my experiences,” Stranki said. Since June, Stranik has worked at a number of different farms, starting from an organic vegetable and fruit farm in Princeton, N.J., to her current location at an equestrian farm in Versailles, Ky. So far, stops in between includes Pennsylvania, Vir­ginia, and Maryland. At these farms, Stranik has done everything from building portable chicken coops to making cheese and chicken burgers with a farmer who enjoys working in the nude. At her current stead, Gollehon Quarter Horses in Kentucky, Stranik, who took riding lessons as a child, learned about horse psychology while working with young horses. One of the highlights of the Kentucky farm is getting a foal to follow her around the ring. “The World Equestrian Games are going on right now [in Kentucky], which is like the Olympics.  [It’s the] first time [the games have] been held in the US … [and] I got a volunteer job with them,” Stranik said. “[I] was really lucky because [the games] have had everything lined up for a long time, and I’ve gotten to go in and get a backstage pass and see all these athletes and horses.” Stranik, an architecture student at Cornell, originally had the idea of staying in France for a summer and learning French. However, she was inspired by World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, an organization that connects volunteers with organic farms that need help.  “As I looked into that, I ended up getting more excited about farming,” Stranik said.  However, after returning to her native Alaska following graduation, Stranik decided to road trip on her bike across the country, incorporating working at farms along the way. Stranik found many of the farms through WWOOF, but the equestrian farm she currently works for is the first that she located on her own.  According to Stranik, it was difficult to locate farms in the Midwest that would take her because, “when I just call someone up it’s not really something that some people would find ideal … a lot of these people are busy professionals and they have their own stuff to do. Getting them to understand and be excited about my project was really key in finding this place.” Before making the week-long bike ride from Virginia to Kentucky, the longest trek Stranik has done so far, typical rides were only one or two days long. Stranik said that she was able to make due by staying overnight at local farms and families, as well as friends she already knew.  “One of the highlights of my trip [ has been] knocking on random people’s doors and asking them to stay there,” Stranik said. “Most people will offer me a couch or bed and I’ll usually get a meal and a shower out of it … I’ve realized that there’s a lot of good people out there that have so much they can teach each other.”  Stranik also has a tent that she pitches on church grounds or in the backyards of willing local families. So far, having bunked at a volunteer firehouse, a number of campgrounds and church property, she has only paid for a hotel stay once. Feeling hesitant to label her mission with a specific purpose and point of view, Stranik explained her motives.  “At the beginning of my trip, I thought about fundraising, but I decided not to because I didn’t want [people] to [think I had] a bias,” Stranik said. “Right now it’s [about] exposing myself to different things and getting a new knowledge base. I don’t want to tell people how they should live.”  For now, she is hoping to continue absorbing knowledge for the remainder of the trip. Following her stay at the equestrian farm, Stranik is heading to a slaughterhouse in Missouri, where she hopes to have a even more unusual experience. In the long run, Stranik wants to keep her parameters loose and not to rush these experiences for the sake of a timeline.  “I’m kind of going to get [to my destination] when I get there. Winter will become an issue [because it gets cold], but I’ll solve it when it comes,” Stranik said.

Original Author: Cindy Huynh