The coronavirus pandemic has been nothing short of a call to action for many. Students, teachers, and administrators are all doing their part in the fight against COVID-19. This effort extends beyond Harvard’s campus to Surprise Valley, Calif., where co-captain Caroline Noble of the Radcliffe Women’s Heavyweight Crew team is doing her part.
For the past three years, Noble has contributed to the Radcliffe squad on and off the water. One of Noble’s favorite Radcliffe memories on the water was rowing six-seat in the Club Eight at Head of the Charles her sophomore fall. But the San Anselmo, Calif., native’s career has been anything but smooth.
Noble was diagnosed with Lyme Disease in high school. She has spent several years battling chronic illness, fatigue, and a weak immune system due to the Epstein-Barr virus. And in the fall of her first year with the Crimson, Noble developed an abscess in her tonsils. After flying home to California and undergoing surgery, Noble ended up missing five weeks of her first semester.
“At that point, I realized I need to take care of my health first,” Noble said. “I really prioritized looking at ways I could be healthy. That included cleaning out my diet [and] my lifestyle… Since then, I’ve been really into all aspects of holistic health.”
Noble is one of many varsity athletes this semester who made the difficult decision to take a leave of absence from the college and their respective sports. She and fellow co-captain Samantha Sarafin of Lancaster, Mass., were “so excited to cultivate [a] sense of community and resilience on our team” during what was to be the 2020-2021 season. But although she misses her teammates, coaches, and Weld Boathouse, Noble “knew there was something more [she] could do to contribute [to the fight against COVID-19].” The Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology (HDRB) concentrator was inspired to take a leave of absence to pursue an opportunity that would allow her to do just that.
“I heard this podcast that mentioned a new movement of farmers who are focused on healing their soil in order to increase productivity, help the Earth, and help their crops,” Noble explained. “I googled it and found a list of farms that were doing this in California.”
Located in beautiful Surprise Valley, Calif., Bidwell Canyon Farm and its dedication to regenerative land management resonated with Noble. In exchange for housing and farm-fresh food, the Radcliffe co-captain is working for and learning from the farm’s owners during her leave of absence from the college.
The work ethic of a Radcliffe rower has translated into Noble’s day-to-day activities on the farm. Throughout the harvesting season, Noble and other Bidwell Canyon employees harvest and process farm-fresh fruits and vegetables.
“I have a whole new appreciation for salad,” said co-captain Noble while laughing. “You pick it leaf by leaf — at least for spring mix or spinach.”
And most important to Noble, the Bidwell Canyon Farm attends a farmer’s market every Saturday to distribute organic produce to the community. The owners of Bidwell Canyon Farm advocate for greater accessibility to farm-fresh, organic, and local food as an instrument to improve public health. Using government-issued vouchers, low income and underprivileged members of the community can enjoy the deliciously healthy food that Caroline Noble has played a part in harvesting.
“I know firsthand that how you eat impacts your immune system,” Noble said. “It impacts your ability to fight illness. I believe to my core that changing people’s diets will help with this pandemic.”
Although the rower turned organic farmer will eventually have to transition back from farm-fresh and local vegetables to Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS), her out-of-the-box experience has been eye-opening and has made Noble one of many Harvard student-athletes contributing to the fight against COVID-19.
“It’s daunting to feel like we are powerless, but we are not.”