Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Paid in Produce
Working on Southeast Farallon Island (SEFI) requires a large commitment of time and energy. Interns stay a minimum of 8 weeks, generally longer, and work every day. Though the island is a beautiful place, working “well beyond full time” in such an isolated and rugged environment can be challenging. Whereas most people are paid for their work, the interns on SEFI are volunteers whose main form of compensation comes in a different form: food, of good quality and quantity.

Anyone who has worked at a field station knows the positive impact that good food has on the morale of the workers. Here on the Farallones, we take our food seriously. As we spend our days conducting research in observation blinds or outside, resighting, counting, and banding birds etc.- we need good food on the table to keep us going through all kinds of weather. There aren’t too many workplaces where you need to fulfill your duties in 40 knot winds! Whereas the average person can purchase food at a grocery store or market, the nearest market to our house is about 27 miles of rough open ocean away. But fear not, us Fara-loners are far from starving.

Every two weeks (weather permitting), a boat from the Farallon Patrol, a volunteer organization of local Bay Area boat skippers, arrives with fresh food as well as any needed supplies, personal items and personnel. With 5-8 people on the island this means a lot of food is delivered. Between three refrigerators, a freezer and a walk-in pantry, we generally manage to store the food in its proper place until it is consumed.

From Monday to Saturday, each person makes their own breakfast and lunch and we have a rotating schedule for who cooks dinner, so everyone takes a hand to the spatula. Cooking for 8 hungry Faralloners is quite an undertaking and can be intimidating at first but the reward of having well-fed workmates (and someone else cook for you for the next 7 days) is very satisfying and builds a strong sense of community.

The food consumed at a typical Farallon dinner would put a high school football team at a buffet to shame. Recently, we’ve had calzones, fresh curry, pasta carbonara, cottage pie and eggplant parmesan. Sundays are made special by cooking a brunch together, celebrating the completion of one and the beginning of another fabulous week on SEFI. Though not a ‘required’ component of cooking, we are also known to have fresh banana bread, cakes and cookies around for those with a sweet tooth. Since the seabird season began, we have gone through about 30 pounds of flour, and 30 of sugar (15 white, 15 brown).

So if you are in Marin County and see a group of people loading or purchasing what appears to be an unreasonably large amount of groceries, check to see if one of them is wearing a PRBO hat or sweatshirt. If someone is, that food will be likely making a valiant voyage to the Farallones, providing the invaluable sustenance that is required by SEFI’s biologists and interns.

Loading up a truck with food for the island.


Anonymous said...

Nice entry! Hopefully all those folks who gave us strange looks while doing the shop will see this and understand now. I hope they provide as well for us while I'm working in the Pribilofs.

Take it easy

Mirage said...

Hey I just bumped over this blog, and I think it's amazing what great and irreplacable work you do! It becomes so clear when reading this post about your dietary habits, becuase you can't afford forgetting something when you buying these masses of food!
Seams correct when saying, that food's got a huge impact on morale and well-being, so it seems as if it's lonely sometimes (?) but still a normal way of living...
Greatings and go on !

Caroline said...

Uh huh! I'd like to bite into those eats, Pac-man style! (minus the Ziploc bags, of course)

Miss being out there with you guys!

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