As we gear up for August, we reflect back on our first summer session of 2019, where students embarked on month-long farm placements with our wonderful farm partners. While living and working on a farm, students completed projects related to Sustainable Partnership Development, and Accounting and Financial Systems, earning college credit as they worked to help farms build forward over the next year.
As our internships are completely experiential, we place a high value on reflection. Below are some excerpts from the weekly reflections submitted to us by Yuchen and Audrey, two phenomenal student interns who made a big difference this summer.
Yuchen, Oak Spring Farm, Week One:
After spending five days on Oak Spring Farm in Freeland, Maryland, I am very happy and excited for the upcoming two weeks here. For the past five days working for the farm, I participated in different activities every day that are novel and exciting for me. One of the things I enjoy a lot is packaging the washed products into bags for each CSA members. Another precious thing out of this experience is that I learned a lot about planting, weeding and how to take care of the plants. With the help of other crew members, I learned to weed the ground with shovels. The planting part of the process is also interesting because I get to touch each plant and place them into the soil. There is a sense of responsibility attached to this job that makes me feel important as part of this farm.
I also enjoyed interacting with the host family. Lisa has been extremely nice with me, and her children are fun to interact with. They also invited me to their family dinner one night when Lisa’s mother cooked very nice dinner for all of us. Through our interactions, I can feel their connection as a family and their love for each other. I enjoyed being in an atmosphere like that.
Yuchen, Oak Spring Farm, Week Two:
Moving into the second week at Oak Spring Farm, I am feeling more like home at this place, getting along with Lisa as well as being quite familiar with the farm chores. While the first week is mostly the learning process and getting to know things around the farm, the second week is definitely where I am finding my place on this farm.
With the farm work, I am more capable of handling things for the second week’s harvest, cleaning, weighing and packaging. Everything became a bit easier after I did them the first time, and I am truly happy that I can be of more help to the farm. I became friends with other members working on the farm, and I enjoyed the time spent working with them together. It was a very interesting experience to get to know more types of vegetables as well as herbs, and flowers.
The project work is also going smoothly. As I learn more about things around the farm, I know about Lisa and the crew’s needs as well as their preferences for recording and such. Therefore, it is easier for me to come up with a plan to help them in the best way possible.
Overall, second week’s experience is interesting and less challenging than the first week. I feel prepared for farm work as well as project work in the second half of my time here on the farm.
Yuchen, Oak Spring Farm, Week Three:
Going into the third week of this experience, I am feeling more and more care and love for this place. Getting more used to the environment and everyone here, Oak Spring Farm is feeling like my second home. Forming relationships with Lisa and everyone that works here, I am amazed by their different points of view towards this farm and what they do here.
As we move closer to the end of this project, I am feeling more confident and competent in what I am doing for this farm. Talking more with Lisa and getting to know more things around the farm, I think what I am doing for this project will definitely help Lisa with organizing data. Thanks to Anna and her husband, Anthony’s help with Excel and Google Sheets, I am just finishing up with formulas and inputting data at this stage of the project.
I am also happy to get to know people around this farm. When there are volunteers coming to help from time to time, it is exciting to get to know them and talk with them. The farm work is becoming very enjoyable as well because I enjoy the feeling of harvest.
Overall, I had a great week staying at Oak Spring Farm, and I am excited for the final deliverable of this project.
Audrey, Coeur et Sol Urban Farm- On New Experiences:
I’ve enjoyed my first week working with Chelsa. It’s always cool seeing how different farms/gardens have different growing techniques and processes. I’ve never worked with someone who serves as an aggregator for local produce and prepared foods before, so it’s neat seeing her serve as a sort of bridge between producers and consumers. It’s great being outside and in the sun while doing farm work, especially since I’m cooped up inside during most of the school year. One of my favorite farm tasks to do is hand weed - cleaning up a bed is so satisfying and it always looks so nice afterwards!
Audrey, Coeur et Sol Urban Farm- On Balance:
Farming is about balance. Weeding puts you into positions that give yoga a run for its money, but growing food also requires balance in terms of scheduling and prioritization. For example, when weeding it’s tempting to do a really thorough job of picking out all the little weeds. However, thoroughly weeding a bed is time-intensive and the weeds are always going to come back anyways, so a quick hand-weed might be a better option from a production standpoint. Farming is finding a balance between weeding enough so that the weeds don’t take over your bed, but not so much that you use up all the daylight.
Audrey, Coeur et Sol Urban Farm- On Farm Business Challenges:
On Wednesday, the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) came to see the farm. Apparently they like to go see local farms twice a year, and this time they were interested in seeing urban agriculture in Essex County. It was good for Chelsa to meet and network with them; a lot of them have connections in local politics, so hopefully they’ll be able to help her with some of the bureaucratic red tape around opening her storefront (Bloomfield continues to be convoluted and difficult about it). It’s frustrating that the city is making the process so difficult (Chelsa’s local, organic grocery store will be replacing a liquor store, for Pete’s sake), but I also don’t think there’s a lot of existing infrastructure telling political officials how to work with agricultural professionals. Urban agriculture is relatively new, and agriculture in itself doesn’t have as much formal structure as government. Farmers also tend to keep to themselves (after all, they’re busy growing food for the rest of us), and agriculture as a whole is generally looked down on in terms of prestige and reputation. In addition to all of that, Chelsa also has to deal with the challenges of being a female entrepreneur.
Audrey, Coeur et Sol Urban Farm- On Animal Agriculture:
I’ve been thinking about animal agriculture; it definitely has its drawbacks. Research has shown that consuming too many animal products can increase risk for chronic disease, and the meat, dairy, and egg industries have large environmental impacts due to high demand and being very resource-intensive. Some people go so far as to say that you can’t be an environmentalist without being vegan. As someone who both cares about the environment and follows a vegan diet, I find this statement self-righteous, alienating, and just generally unhelpful. The more I think about what a sustainable food system would look like, the more it seems that animal agriculture can and will inevitably have to be part of a sustainable food system. The point is that small-scale, sustainable animal agriculture operations exist, but it’s up to consumers to support them and make sure they’re there when we need them in the future. In short: eat more plants and less animal products. When you do eat animal products, source them from small-scale, sustainable, local producers. It’s the way of the future.
Yuchen and Audrey are both rising sophomores at Johns Hopkins University. Yuchen is studying Environmental Science and Accounting, while Audrey is concentrating in Environmental Science and Public Health.
They both will be presenting their work and experiences at the OutGrowth Student Showcase Event on September 12, 2019 in Baltimore! To learn more about this event, reach out to us.