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Matt Rohanna, Farm Apprentice

Street lights glow as the early morning sky sleepily transitions from night’s starry black to royal blue.
Summer dew clings to thick blades of grass as apprentice Matt Rohanna rides his bicycle through town on his morning commute to Roots to River Farm in Solebury Township.
“It’s sort of a meditative time even though it can be stressful depending on the traffic,” he said about riding his bike to work.
The nighttime crickets fade and a warm sunrise paints the sky as Rohanna walks his bike into the barn and begins his day. He’s the first to arrive, before owner and manager Malaika Spencer and assistant manager Amanda Midkiff.
In his cut-off denim jeans, plaid shirt, shaggy hair and rubber boots, Rohanna warms a cup of oatmeal and gets started on washing and arranging crates while singing quietly to himself.
“Malaika and Amanda pick on me about my ‘crate art,’” he said as he carefully arranged the wet crates into a spiraling tower.
There’s a peacefulness and efficiency as he works in the early morning hours, and he can easily be mistaken for a seasoned farmer.
And yet, he’s never worked on a farm before.
Rohanna, originally from a small town in southwestern Pennsylvania, has had his share of adventures working as a barista in Pittsburgh coffee shops and teaching English in Japan.
He said he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do next, but farming was something he always wanted to try.
“The idea of sitting around in mid-20s malaise and male ennui — I just wanted to be outside and do something good with good people,” he said.
Rohanna found Roots to River on an Internet directory of organic farms looking for apprentices. One week later, he was at the farm meeting Spencer and Midkiff.
“He got out of his car and he was dressed to what I thought was pretty fashionable, and I thought, ‘Who is this guy?’” Midkiff recalled. “I was skeptical for about 30 seconds until we went out to the potato field and it was instant.”
Midkiff said he was a perfect fit even if his farm work experience was limited. She said he had confidence and instantly understood the concept of working quickly and as a team.
Leaving your former life behind to work 10-plus hours six days a week while renting a small room and making very little money might not sound like the most attractive opportunity.
“It was really liberating actually,” Rohanna said. “Nobody knows me here, so I get to start over in that sense.”
Rohanna said it helps that the work is fulfilling.
“Good food, good people,” he said.
With long hours and very little contact with others, a strong working relationship is vital.
Spencer, Midkiff and Rohanna have spent hours discussing topics such as movies, literature and culture. They’ve fallen into fits of giggles over nonsensical inside jokes. They’ve sweat together, soaked in the rain together and froze together.
They’ve become a family.
But apprenticeships end, and family members sometimes move away.
Rohanna said he’s keeping his options open for the next adventure, but Spencer and Midkiff have a different plan.
“We can’t get rid of Matt,” Midkiff said.
In the months that followed, Rohanna moved to New Hope to work a different job in the winter. But he’s already been hired to work on the farm during the busy season.
Come spring, Rohanna will again ride his bicycle through the back roads of Bucks County, sunrise to sunset, to and from Roots to River Farm.

Investing in Youth

NEW WINDSOR -- School is out for the summer, yet at 7:30 one recent morning 43 seventh- and eighth-graders from the Quad-Cities began to roll out of bed.

As part of Youth Hope: A Ministry of Christian Friendliness, these 12- to 14-year-olds spent five days enjoying a summer camp jam-packed with events at Camp Summit in New Windsor.

On their last full day before returning to their normal summertime lives, they -- unlike the camp counselors who still were rubbing the sleep from their eyes -- hurried through the morning with as much energy and enthusiasm as the first day, getting dressed, eating, cleaning up, conversing, playing games and joining for morning prayer.

This retreat for young teenagers offers at-risk youth the chance to learn about God and to spend time outside their usual surroundings, camp director Kevin Perrine said.

"They're coming from inner-city homes," Mr. Perrine said. "Sometimes, not all of the time, those are troubled homes where they face different issues or not a lot of income in their home so they go without some things."

Each participant was picked up at the beginning of the week and taken home at the end -- and it did not cost them a dime. The camp is funded mostly by individual donors from the community.

"We are able to provide an opportunity that sometimes they are not offered," Mr. Perrine said.

Mr. Perrine has been camp director for four years and spends much of the time in the background keeping an eye on things, arranging upcoming activities and running errands throughout the grounds on a John Deere Gator.

The rest of the staff is comprised of five counselors and five counselors-in-training who sign up for 10 weeks -- two weeks of training and the eight week-long camps.

"This isn't an easy job," Kelli Fuegen, the program director, said. "This is a job where you feel like you are really preparing for battle."

With almost four dozen campers at an age of energy, defiance and self-discovery, certain moments can become chaotic: running around, not listening, talking back, the boys bothering the girls and the girls bothering the boys. Participants sometimes are sent home for misbehavior.

The counselors and their invisible suits of armor block the personal insults and unnecessary rebellion sometimes launched at them.

"You see the difference that you do make in them, and I think in this society today it's important to invest in youth and love them even though it's difficult sometimes," Ms. Fuegen said.

As 4 p.m. rolled around, some of the counselors sneaked off to freshen up after spending the day in the hot sun. Others stole a few minutes of sleep while the other counselors kept a close eye on things.

The campers did not slow down for a second. They played water games, basketball or ran around, enjoying every moment. They learned verses in the Bible, played trust games, fished, swam, played kick ball and more. They were able to let loose, make new friends and experience new things during the week.

"I learn a lot when I come here," said Sadarake Niyonkuru, 12, of Rock Island. "My first time coming here was two years ago, and there was a lot that I learned about God."

"I want to tell everyone about it," said Destiny Austin, 14, of Rock Island. "(The camp) should be two weeks -- probably a month long."

Destiny also said that she has learned to respect people, to respect God and to be nice since she started attending camp.

As the last day of camp inched to an end, the campers still had much to do, from enjoying a giant taco casserole dinner to a talent show.

"These kids need this," Mr. Perrine said. "We want to give them something they can have hope in and look forward to in life."

Juggler in the Park

Rafael Kaplanowski finds a quiet spot to call his own on a picturesque spring day in Neshaminy State Park, an unorthodox workspace for practicing what he calls his “second job.”
Birds lightly chirp in freshly blossomed trees and the occasional bee whizzes by into the bright sun. Dogs walk their owners, taking in every scent, and joggers steady their breathing as they run on paths. In the background, Kaplanowski sends old scuffed and taped bottles twirling into the air, juggling two, three and four at a time.
“It almost like sets my mind free,” he said. “It’s like time stands still.”
Kaplanowski is not only juggling, but also practicing new “flair bartending” moves.
“It’s entertaining your guests with using different bar equipment through a way of twisting, throwing and spinning,” he said. “You make your cocktails with style and flair.”
Kaplanowski has been bartending for about eight years, and flair bartending for the past year. He said he saw a friend do it and instantly fell in love with the skill.
“When I was younger, my father always told me you’ll end up doing something with your reflexes,” Kaplanowski said. He believes he found the perfect fit.
He moved to Philadelphia from Gliwice, Poland, with his family when he was a child. He lives in the Port Richmond neighborhood, but he practices his new-found trade in parks throughout Bucks County. Among his favorites is the state park in Bensalem, a place he remembers visiting with family when he was a boy.
He explained that he loves the sun, the fresh oxygen and the peaceful environment while practicing in parks.
He also has a lot more room to work in a park than when he has to cram himself behind a bar.
And, he takes practicing seriously. He says he puts in two to three hours a day, at least five days a week, and it might take him an hour of repetition before he correctly executes a particular move.
“Every time I learn a new trick, it’s almost like a button gets pressed in your brain,” he said. “You can be trying to do a move for like four hours, and once you get it, you’re like ‘Ah that’s it right there.’ You just feel it.”
Up, down, around his back, over his shoulder, landing a cup of water precisely on his wrist before giving it one more 365 degree twist just to show off — Kaplanowski seems to defy gravity as he practices his moves over and over, cheering himself on with the occasional “all right” or “here we go.”
“I see myself as an entertainer or a performer — a performing bartender,” he said.
For the hours he puts in, he really gets to show-off only to his customers a total of 10 to 15 minutes a night. There’s little room for error behind a small bar with glass everywhere. And, according to Kaplanowski, some people don’t want any fancy tricks; they just want their drinks. But that doesn’t seem to frazzle him.
“Something keeps pulling me back,” he said.
Flair bartending, which he showcases at the Huntington Valley Country Club, might not have been Kaplanowski’s first choice as a career, but it’s something that he has absorbed himself in and is dedicated to.

“If you asked me four or five years ago, ‘Would you see yourself flipping bottles?’ I’d say no. But that’s one of the mysteries of life. Never say never because you never know what you’re going to be doing.”

Gettysburg 150 

It was hot, I was lost and very overwhelmed.
With the high, blinding sun beating down and a sea of sweaty people everywhere, getting lost was easy.

It was July 6, the second to last day of the Civil War re-enactment event in Gettysburg. Spectators gathered to catch a glimpse of what the battles and life during the war might have been like 150 years ago.

I was looking for the camp of the Civil War artillery re-enactors with whom I would spend the next two days.

“Do you know where the 6th New York Artillery camp is?” I called out.

“You see those white tents at the top of that hill?” one man said as he pointed toward a distant camp. At 5 feet tall, I could see only the tips of the tents. “Go all the way past them to the end of the parking lot and that’s where some of the Union artillery is.”

I walked for more than an hour, carrying two cameras, three lenses, my Union soldier uniform and other supplies. Rows and rows of small white tents lined the fields as 2013 transformed into 1863.

Everything represented the era, from the attire to the camping tools and battle equipment. But soldiers sneaking cellphone calls and the ever-present portable potties were reminders of the current time.

I finally found the 6th New York Independent Battery and it felt like I was actually reporting for duty.

I thought I was sweaty before, but then I put on my Union uniform. The wool pants were itchy, the shirt was thick and stiff, but I finally looked like a fit in. At least I thought so.

“Nice hat,” Kyle Adams, 15, from Bridgewater, N.J., said with sarcasm. “It looks real.”

It turns out I bought a toy kepi, and it was obvious once I got a closer look at the caps on everyone else’s head.

“Oh great,” I thought. I wasn’t there 20 minutes and I was already an outsider.

We filled the next five hours with idle conversation, drank lots of water and moved as little as possible.

“We’ve gotten really good at doing nothing,” said William Barnhardt of Lahaska, the acting lieutenant.

‘Gotta keep history alive’
Another day dawnsThe final battle

Matt Howe of Doylestown was sitting smoking a honey-flavored cigar to pass the time. He has been participating in re-enactments for about 12 years.

“It’s fun and you just gotta keep history alive,” he said. “I’ve made so many friends over the years doing this.”

Elizabeth and Marty Furan of Lambertville have been re-enacting for about three years. Marty Furan is a sergeant in the ranks of re-enactors and his wife is a limber corporal.

“We’re married 32 years and it’s the only time she listens to me,” said Marty Furan, joking that he outranks her on the battlefield.

“That’s not true, but it’s a good story,” he retracted as his wife eyed him with a smirk.

They both agreed they love re-enacting, but not just for the thrill of firing cannons.

“Everyone needs to remind themselves of how bad it was,” Elizabeth Furan said about the Civil War. “It’s a very sobering thing.”

The slow pace of camp life was shattered as the captains suddenly barked orders to gear up and load onto the trucks.

More than a dozen soldiers from the 6th New York quickly hitched up one of the two cannons — a reproduction Parrott rifle — to a pickup truck and piled into the truck bed.

We were off to battle in “Thundering Hell — Defending East Cemetery Hill.”

We were one in a line of 20 Union cannons waiting for the South. From our vantage point, we could hardly see the grandstands. It was easy to forget we were there to put on a show for thousands of spectators, some from around the world.

Ahead in the distance, the Confederate infantrymen marched in to the beat of war drums. Soldiers prepared the cannons, calling out each meticulous step in a well-practiced routine.


And then …

The thundering, startling boom of the first cannon sent my heart pounding and I thanked the heavens for having earplugs.

The firing lasted about an hour, and, before I knew it, we were on our way back to camp with smiles beaming from faces caked in gunpowder dust.

Jeffrey Cohen of Rahway, N.J., was the acting captain for the battles. Cohen, a jovial man with an endless supply of interesting stories to tell, started the 6th of New York with just a handful of people more than 10 years ago.

“Did you feel the earth shake?” he asked.

I certainly did. And now I understand why firing cannons can be so exhilarating.
Back at camp, the pace slowed again. People started cooking dinner. Others left the 1860s to go to restaurants and cool off.

I headed back to my hotel to clean up and rest my aching, sunburned body.

The next day came in a flash.

The weather was supposed to be cooler, but it didn’t feel that way. Rumors circulated that the last battles might be canceled because too many spectators were getting sick from the heat.

I trudged back to the camp, more confident and comfortable than the day before. When I got there, everyone welcomed me. I wasn’t just the newspaper reporter anymore.

“Living” in the 1860s can be tough — especially during the slow moments. No matter how hard I tried to avoid it, I kept sneaking peaks at my phone to check the time.

Still, it felt as close to the real thing as you could get. The re-enactors have put so much into being as authentic as possible. Some take it more seriously than others, but it’s truly a lifestyle.

“Of course, we have the convenience of ice and coolers, but you’re still living very much the same way they did,” Barnhardt said. “I don’t know how they could have managed to sit in this kind of weather and actually go out and fight.”

Before long, it was time to load up for Pickett’s Charge, the final battle re-enactment.

We loaded two cannons, the reproduction parrott rifle and a gun called the Napoleon — an original cannon from 1863 that is believed to have been in Gettysburg.

“Give ‘em hell,” someone shouted to us as we slowly paraded to the field.

“We’re already in hell,” Robert Fagan of New Paltz, N.Y., called back in character.

Spectators packed the grandstands and crammed into every spare space surrounding the field.

The Confederate Army was ahead of us, cannons ready to go. Drums and fifes played in the distance and slowly got louder as the infantry marched forward.

It began.

The heat didn’t matter anymore. The crowd disappeared in the smoke from the weapons. Officers shouted commands, soldiers bellowed — it was war.

“Is this your first time at one of these?” a man shouted to me as I hid inside the wheel of a cannon.

“Yes!” I shouted back.

“No wonder,” he said, laughing.

I realized at that moment what I must have looked like — eyes wide, mouth open. I was ducking for cover, peeking out over the Union infantry to watch the South charge.

Amid the chaos, a storm was quickly approaching. The soldiers quickened the pace in order to finish before the rain fell. Maj. Gen. George Meade rode through the battlefield to signify the Union victory.

And then came the rain.

Some spectators braved the heavy downpour to congratulate us on a good battle. I caught myself smiling and waving back.

The paths turned to mud. The truck got stuck. The camps were soaked. But no one seemed to mind. It was all part of the job.

Soggy and exhilarated, I prepared to hike back to my car and return to 2013. The two days already felt like a dream from which I didn’t want to wake up.

“So what did you think?” Cohen asked.

“I think I’m hooked,” I said.

Future Soldier Training 

Some ship out for Basic Combat Training in a few days, some in a few months and others haven’t even enlisted in the U.S. Army yet.

Future Soldier Training at the U.S. Army recruitment station in Doylestown is offered to those who want to get a head start on their military careers and those interested in learning more about Army life.

Every Thursday evening, even during a heat wave, future soldiers are outside the recruitment station getting a small taste of what basic training will be like.

Dressed in black Go Army.com T-shirts, 16 young men and women stand at attention and listen to Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Hollis’ commands.

“Left face,” he says, and they all turn to the left.

Several young recruits are a little wobbly in their turns, while others look like they’ve been practicing the motions for a long time. Their movements are not yet tack-sharp, but Hollis still encourages them.

“We try to get them set up for success,” Hollis said about training them before their basic training.

There are classes for drill and ceremony, physical fitness and even a website on which recruits can complete courses and tour Army bases. Besides getting the young men and women better prepared, the program also helps them get promotions faster once they are in the military.

The future soldiers transition from drill and ceremony to endurance and strength-building exercises.

Pushups, runs, pushups, burpees (squat thrust), more pushups — each person has a different fitness level and each starts out strong. But as the hour wears on, strain starts to show on the faces of even the toughest-looking recruits.

Some bend over to catch a quick breath as droplets of sweat drip down their foreheads and off the tips of their noses before pushing on to complete the obstacles presented to them.

High school senior Brendan Madison of Doylestown accomplishes each challenge with just as much determination as the previous one.

Madison plans to enlist next year and wants to be a combat medic. He said he attends Future Soldier Training sessions to stay one step ahead.

“I think it really helps you prepare for basic training,” he said.

Heidi Judge of Phillipsburg, N.J., could have spent her past few days relaxing before basic training, but is busy lifting sandbags and running laps.

“I feel good after a workout and I feel better about myself,” said Judge, who recently left home for basic training hoping to become a military police officer. “You don’t want to go into basic training blind. You want to go in there with a little bit of knowledge of what you’re doing.”

Michael Kelly, 16, of Souderton, has an entire year before he is eligible to enlist but is determined to start early.

“I know that I want this and I want to better prepare myself,” he said.

Next on the list of physically exhausting tasks is for teams of four to pull a pickup truck to one end of the parking lot and back. As difficult as it looks, each team successfully moves the truck in a little more than a minute.

Hollis admits that some of the things he has his recruits do is harder than what they’ll be doing in basic training. But he believes they will be ready for anything.

“Throughout their time in the Future Soldier Program, they build confidence, and by the time they actually graduate and come back (from basic training), they’re standing taller and they know they can complete challenges they didn’t know they could,” the sergeant first class said.

“It’s kind of a transformation. I love seeing it.”

Even though it is the recruiter’s job to get potential candidates to enlist, anyone can attend a Future Soldier Training session without any commitment to the Army. And, after the Thursday session, some might decide the Army is not for them.

Others might discover something new about themselves.

Reggae Beat Draws Siblings Together 

Walking down 14th Street near the public library in Rock Island, Ill., a sound can be heard coming from a small brick apartment complex.

Open the door to one of the apartments and a dub reggae band called The Fiyah is jamming out.
The band rehearses almost daily, conjuring up the spirit of classic rock music with a reggae twist, along with playing reggae favorites.
Abram, 21, Maya, 20, Ishmael, 18, Jamaica, 16, and Zebedee, 14, all brothers and sisters of the Brooks family, make up the band.

When it's time to practice, they clear a space in a meager, window-lit room of their apartment, break out their instruments and begin. 

The driving beat of the bass repeats notes, inviting the other instruments to join in. The high notes of the guitar delicately echo with reverb set to high. The drum kit's cymbals appear like a light breeze. Suddenly, the loud bang-bang of the tom-toms intrudes on the entire ensemble with a well-known beat. 

During a rehearsal of "Black Magic Woman" by Peter Green, a song more famously known as a Santana classic, the room seems to transform into an outdoor concert where space is not an issue, and five introverted young adults turn into serious musicians who really know how to wail.

They keep an eye on each other to keep count and communicate time changes. They work together to create a unified organic sound one would not expect from 14-to-21-year-olds.

The Fiyah was born about two years ago when the family lived in Kansas City. At that time, it consisted only of the boys in the family: Abram on drums, Ishmael on bass and Zebedee on lead guitar.

When parents Greg and Susan relocated the family to the Quad-Cities, the girls joined in, quickly learning the keyboard and any other instrument they could pick up.

Abram, the oldest of the family's seven children, is the unofficial bandleader. He also came up with the band's name.

"I just wanted a name that represents something that can grow just like a fire," he said. "It represents the soul. Music at its core has that soul. It has that fire that burns."

He said he changed the spelling because he likes to play around with text and he did not want the name to look or sound industrialized.

Working as sibling band mates is not daunting for the Brooks. Actually, they all agreed that they prefer it. Being a close-knit family, they spend most of their time together anyway.

Ms. Brooks home-schools all of her children, and the older boys help Mr. Brooks with his work, in rehabilitating houses.


"I'd probably be more uncomfortable playing in a different band," Ishmael said. "With family, you're one-minded in where you going to move."

 Abram said the band helps him connect with younger siblings like Zebedee.

"It allows me to have a common ground with him," Abram said.

Maya, the oldest sister, admits that, like any family, the Brooks siblings' relationship is not sunshine and daisies all of the time.

 "Sometimes it gives you a headache, but it's pretty nice," she said. "I'm glad I'm close to my family."

The family has been surrounded by music all of their lives. Mr. and Mrs. Brooks used to book reggae bands for concerts, so becoming musicians felt natural for the children.

 "It's a lot of things," Zebedee said about reggae music. "Just the feel of it and just the way it sounds. That's what I enjoy about it. It puts you in a different place, another dimension, or whatever you call it. It's a feel-good music. That's what I call it."

All of the siblings are proficient on several instruments and switch for different songs.

 “I want to play all of the instruments," Jamaica said.

They have high hopes for their band, but they have other passions as well. For instance, Maya is an artist and wants to be a business owner some day. Zebedee is interested in graphic design and has dreams of starting a clothing line. Ishmael is interested in environmental issues and the power of windmills.

"We're a band in progress," Zebedee said modestly. 

The brothers and sisters have been practicing more than ever, adding songs to their growing set list and perfecting the ones they already know.

The more they work at their music, the more they hope to grow. Just like a fire.

The Love of Vinyl


Warm summer light peaks through the blinds of the second-floor window of the historic Hibernian Hall building in Davenport, Iowa, where a lifetime of music can be found neatly cluttering the cramped rooms.

A needle follows the final few grooves of the light jazz record album and the music fades out, a signal to Bob Herington that it's time for some new tunes.
Mr. Herington, owner of Ragged Records, buys, sells and trades used records, CDs, DVDs and music memorabilia. In his store alone, there are between 50,000 and 60,000 vinyl records.

“I’ve got a bit to choose from,” he said while selecting a new record to play in his store.

His warehouse holds around 250,000 more.

"People give us want lists," Mr. Herington said.

If customers cannot find what they are looking for in store, he said he can usually find it in his warehouse.

Mr. Herington grew up with records, and said his love for vinyl is a "nostalgia thing," though he notes the format is making a comeback.

Customers browse Ragged Records looking for an old favorite or something unique. One young customer even shows interest in buying a stereo system that will play records -- something he said he knows nothing about.

"It's getting popular again," Mr. Herington said. "And now that it's something to collect, it's a little more interesting."

To keep business going, his items are not sold solely from his store. He sells on Ebay as well.

However, the Internet cannot compare to the atmosphere of the old building, nor the experience of sifting through thousands of used records.

"It's much more like a record store that I would have went in in the '70s or early '80s," Mr. Herington says of his business. "It's got more of a head-shop feel without being a head shop. It's still just a record store." 

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