Farmer Spotlight: Dayanna “Day” De La Rosa
October is a bittersweet month on the farm, as productivity wanes and the season ends for some of our field crew members. Since April, they have stewarded the land with care, respect, and skill to help us grow fresh, organic produce for hunger relief. We thank them!
In 2023 we were lucky to have Dayanna “Day” De La Rosa on the crew: a first-year farmer who brought a strong intuition for plants, a great sense of humor, and a rich perspective to her work at Gaining Ground. We will miss Day, and we’re excited for what’s next as she becomes the Urban Agriculture Manager at Groundworks Lawrence! Before Day left, we caught up with her to learn more about her journey in farming.
Where is home and how did you find your way to Gaining Ground?
That’s a great question. Initially I’m not thinking of it in a literal sense, but to keep it grounded, I’m from Lawrence, Massachusetts. I found Gaining Ground just Googling “sustainable farming”. I was looking for meaningful work that would allow me to be outside and grow in an intentional way. I didn’t want to pop up at just any farm. It was really important for me to find a farm where the growing techniques were sustainable, organic, and benefited the environment as well as the people working the land. So, I fell in love with Gaining Ground, right from the website. I appreciated the indigenous land acknowledgment.
When you heard that question, you didn’t initially think of a literal home. What else came to mind?
Nature. That’s my home. So farming is a homecoming, literally, in every sense.
Have you always had a knack for farming and growing things? Where did your interest in farming come from?
I always had an interest. It started when I was little, but I would say it even started before that because I believe in things being passed down generationally. My grandfather was a farmer, and my grandmother, in the Dominican Republic. They lived on the land. They lived off the land. They knew certain things intuitively, and I would imagine their parents did too. Dominicans, as an indigenous people, that’s very much their way of life, to be in relationship to the land, nature, all creatures. There’s no separation. We are nature, an embodiment of it.
I only met my grandfather once, when I was three years old, so I don’t have any clear memories of him. But I was always interested in nature, and felt there was so much we could take in. When I was maybe six or seven, in Lawrence, there was a trail I used to visit all the time. My favorite thing was lifting up big rocks and seeing all the life and the critters moving around.
Do you have a favorite farm task or tool to use? What do you like about it?
My hands. It just feels really good. It feels really natural. I don’t wear gloves, except maybe once or twice, in the beginning. There’s a transition period where your hands are being broken in, like a fresh pair of leather shoes. Then I was like, “Wow, I’ve got muscles in my fingers I didn’t even know I had.” Using my hands also makes me feel a lot more integrated. I can feel the plants, I can be more precise with planting, seeding, harvesting. It makes a difference for me, when I have that contact with the soil and the compost and the wood chips and the plants and the seeds. It’s a sensory experience.
Do you have any favorite farmers or other folks doing work that motivates or inspires you?
My crew. The amazing women that I work with. They are my favorite farmers. I work with them every day and they’re so curious, so open, so knowledgeable, so super intelligent, and so intuitive. I felt it was a really special workplace when I came in for my interview. You can just feel the atmosphere, the energy. People here genuinely like each other, they’re curious about one another.
Could you share a significant takeaway from your first farm season?
That we produce so much off of three acres. I don’t know if this is a common misperception about farming, but I always thought you needed to have a hundred acres, a lot of land to produce a lot. In reality, you can do so much with so little. I’m grateful to have that perspective going into urban agriculture. I live in an urban setting, and not all farmers have land access. But we can still grow. There’s already so much there, around you. Even the leaves are mulch. Working at Gaining Ground made farming with limited space feel real and attainable.