Burnout cure.

By Michaela Lemen, Garden Steward Volunteer

I had no idea what I was doing. This, I have found, is a common theme throughout my life. But now, on a small farm in the middle of nowhere—also known as Boulder, Utah— my phone dead, I felt especially alien. My grandparents had been farm-kids, raised tending to pigs and endless rows of corn. But me? I grew up in the suburbs, where having a garden larger than a tomato patch was seen as practically rural. Like many others, I coordinate and centralize my life around a web of SMS, emails, and Franklin-Covey planners. Now here I was, clinging desperately to scratchy, tightly-bound bales of straw as the pick-up bounced its way across shorn fields, completely disconnected from everyone beyond my field of vision.

And I was in heaven.

Two students setting up a campsite in Boulder, Utah at the Hell's Backbone Farm.

Michaela helps set up the campsite.

Hell’s Backbone Grill is a locally-owned farm-to-table restaurant located in Boulder, Utah, a small town near Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. It was featured as City Weekly’s 2013 Restaurant of the Year and heralded by both The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times Travel Magazine, among others. Yet, behind all of these prestigious awards lay a small farm lovingly protected by a handful of dedicated farmers and farm-dogs, toiling away despite the beating sun, monsoon rains, and gale force winds to feed city-dwellers like me.

From here, I could go on to talk about my experience as a temporary woofer (someone who volunteers on a farm in exchange for room and board); I could tell stories about when Honey, one of the farm dogs, was sprayed straight in the face by a baby skunk; I could reflect philosophically about how everyone should spend a week or two on a farm so they understand the effort put into each and every tomato, squash, or beet that some so casually throw away.

But I won’t do that.

Students farming in Boulder, Utah.

Garden steward volunteers farming at Hell’s Backbone. This week-long community-engaged learning trip was coordinated by the Sustainability Office.

Hell’s Backbone will forever be a deeply personal and invaluable experience. An experience that I refuse to pin down or label. I am, by my very nature, a terribly involved and busy person. ASUU? I’m there. Bennion Center service day? Sign me up. Random peer needs help with homework? No problem! Rarely do I find a moment or two where my whirlwind world slows enough for me to catch a breath. Hell’s Backbone was – is – my oasis. Imagine, for a moment, a weekend spent away. Completely away. Your iPhone is useless, unable to catch the faintest glimmer of a signal —let alone Wi-Fi. You are obligated to spend your day elbow-deep in weeds, ants crawling across your feet as you inevitably squish one of their many nests. At first, you might very well feel as I did; clueless, floundering, out-of-place. But by sunset of that first day, as you sit, bone-weary, happily munching on home-made pizza, I guarantee serenity.

So, as the semester progresses, and we each inevitably face the mind-numbing torture of burn-out, I prescribe the following: take a weekend, disconnect, get your hands literally dirty. Learn about a different way and pace of life. Join me on my next excursion to Hell’s Backbone (because I will be going back). There are no adverse side-effects.

Michaela Lemen is a Scientist, Activist, Student, and Star-gazer.

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