From harvesting lavender on a California mountainside to making gains for powerlifting competitions in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, Yuuka McPherson ’19 has traveled the nation — and she can definitely lift more than you (or, at least, she can definitely lift much more than me). I sat down with the aspiring farmer to hear all about her adventures and learn how exactly to herd an escaped bull back to its pen.
What was your hometown like?
I grew up in the suburbs, so basically sports was my life.
Do you play any sports here?
No. I just lift on my own, and I also do the cycling team. But I only go sometimes because if I work too hard at cycling it’ll hurt my lifting.
So how did you get into powerlifting?
I started because I have an older brother. My parents got him a weightlifting set when he was a freshman, and I was just really jealous of him because he was making gains and I wasn’t. [Laughs.] So I started lifting. The very first time I lifted up a dumbbell was the end of eighth grade, and then I did it through high school, but I was busy with soccer and basketball, so I didn’t really get serious about it until the end of senior year because I wasn’t playing any sports at that time. I competed for the first time this past year. For the most part, though, I just do it for fun.
What’s the most you’ve lifted?
My bench is horrible, so we won’t talk about that. [Laughs.] My deadlift is 320, and then my squat is 240.
Wow! How much was it when you started, and how did you train from there?
My deadlift was like 60 pounds, and my squat was like 45 pounds. I don’t know if I did anything specific, I think it was mostly just that I was really into it. It was also just a way to get away from everything. I got a lot more into it because my junior year I tore my ACL, so that just ended soccer and basketball, which had been my whole life. The recovery wasn’t great, so I wasn’t comfortable going back to them. So that kind of opened up lifting because it was way safer. It was the first time that I was doing a solo sport. So that was kind of a big deal. I’m really sad that it happened, but I think in the end it was for the best. It definitely made me more my own person because up until then I’d been very much caught up in the whole sports team.
What do you like most about lifting?
I like it because it’s kind of completely dependent on me. I definitely enjoyed soccer and basketball and the whole team aspect, but at the end of the day, the team performed based on how well everyone was working together, and if one person was not doing well, that would affect the whole team. It’s annoying when that’s someone else, but that’s even worse when it’s me. I like that not only do I not depend on anyone else, no one else is depending on me, so if I mess up, I can just be like, OK, this is what I need to do, and I can go do it without having the extra worries about what everyone else is thinking. And also a lot of people, in my experience, when they look at me, they have this impression of me, so it’s nice to know that even if they don’t know I lift, I know I can probably lift more than them. [Laughs.] So it’s kind of a confidence booster and a useful life skill. I like to farm, so it’s always good to be strong.
What kinds of farms have you worked on?
Last year I worked on a sheep farm. They produce yarn and meat, and it’s cool because they also do events sometimes, like little knitting retreats or “yarn and yoga,” so they really incorporate the community, which is nice because I’m used to farming and having people come just once a week to pick up vegetables or something, and they’re not really involved in the farm. I really liked that about it, and I also really love knitting. It was really cool because I got to see [everything] from the sheep to shearing — I got to help with shearing — and then all the carding, and all the spinning, and the dyeing and then the knitting. It was the whole process.
What are some of your favorite animals to work with on a farm?
Goats and sheep are my favorite. The summer before, I was working on a farm that had cows, and they also kept a bull. Most farms, you keep a bull in a really special pen because they’re super dangerous, but this breed apparently is more mellow, so they just had it in the field. So that was kind of terrifying because one of the vegetable patches was in the pastures, so I’d just be weeding and there’d be this bull standing right there. [Laughs.] The craziest thing was that the bull got loose, actually. It loved jumping fences. So my farm family and I had gone on a little day trip, and then on the way back we got a phone call like, “Hi, your bull is walking around town.” So we raced back home and we split into separate cars and went searching for it. And then we had to herd it back to the farm, and it was scary since it’s a bull. It was like herding but with cars, so we just tried to direct it.
Does your family farm?
My grandfather has an alternative community, so he follows the teachings of this guy Rudolf Steiner [philosopher and founder of Waldorf Schools]. Do you know Waldorf Schools? You know how they do eurythmy? It’s a dance form. Waldorf Schools are super artsy and stuff and they teach that, and so my grandfather teaches the teachers how to teach the dance. A whole part of the Waldorf/Steiner philosophy is community, self-sufficiency and farming, like biodynamic farming. I was never interested in the eurythmy, but I really loved visiting his farm. He had gardens, cows, sheep, goats and horses. I already loved being in that kind of environment, but being able to go and spend time on his farm made me like it even more.
Would you want to incorporate that into a job someday?
It’s hard thinking about jobs because I don’t want to have farming be my sole source of income, but I wonder how much of that is me trying to be responsible and wanting to make sure I have enough money. At least in the short-term, I would like to work on farms, and then in the long-run, I would like to have my own farm, but not for income necessarily, just enough for myself so that I can have my plants and animals and be happy.
What would you want to grow?
In terms of vegetables, whatever, but for animals, I would love to have goats. They’re so versatile, and they’re very low maintenance, even though they can be very annoying. If I ever get a goat I want to make soap. Goat’s milk soap is supposed to be really good for your skin. Cows, their milk is great, but they take up a lot of space. I have kind of thought I want sheep, so I can do the whole knitting thing myself. But part of me wonders, would I actually do it? [Laughs.] But I think goats would be at the top of my list.
What do you like to knit?
I like socks. Socks are my favorite. They were kind of the first thing I learned how to knit. So, the first time I learned to knit, I knit, like, a really janky scarf. It was really crappy yarn, so I just basically stopped doing it. Then a few years later in high school, I had a teacher who was a knitter, so she taught me how to knit, and it was in October, so I was like, “I’ll make a Christmas present for my dad.” And I wanted to make something cool, so I told her I wanted to make socks. So that was my first real knitting project. Since then, I just really love socks. I don’t know, I’ve never thought about them before. Everyone just forgets about socks. But then I feel like once you start making them, you feel like they’re totally necessary to your wardrobe. [Laughs.]
Where have you worked besides the sheep farm?
I also worked on a diversified vegetable and beef CSA farm and a lavender farm. That was super cool. It was in Northern California. So there’s this mountain called Mount Shasta, and this farm was on the side of this mountain from which you could see Mount Shasta in the background. So it was crazy, just this field of lavender and this beautiful mountain in the background. It was kind of funny because we would harvest some of the lavender with scythes, so that was all cute and stuff, and it was also a tourist attraction, so people could pick their own, and they had lotion and stuff like that. But farther down, away from where all the visitors were, we would just harvest with a chainsaw. [Laughs.] It was kind of a funny contrast, all these beautiful flowers, and you just take a chainsaw to them. That was in eighth grade, so later on I realized that was kind of sketchy and I wouldn’t let my kids do that. [Laughs.]