9/26/13

An Arcadian Fellowship, by Mae Humiston

Mae doing a dramatic reading of her favorite
kids farm book: Wiggling Worms at Work
Internships have become known for their low pay, long hours, menial tasks, and general exploitation. “They’re great stepping stones!” people tell interns, but when you’re smack in the middle of a four-hour pencil sharpening campaign, it’s hard to believe you’re gaining any significant life experience or making any meaningful connections.

I never thought that during my time at Arcadia. As internships go, working as Arcadia’s Farm-to-School Fellow was different.

I suffered my fair share of low pay, long hours, and menial tasks. I would do it again, though, because I learned an incredible amount about the logistical side of the non-profit world, connecting the public to sustainable farming efforts, and, of course, working with ever-curious and energetic children. These were things I was looking forward to when I signed up to work at Arcadia, and I was not disappointed.

I began my internship doing a little bit of behind-the-scenes work for Farm Camp and some follow-up tasks to the spring Field Trip Season. I discovered some of the hidden secrets of Excel as I designed a data-entry form for pre- and post-tests from Field Trips. My mornings were filled with researching grade school food and nutrition staff for a project to be completed after my internship is over.

As Farm Camp neared, my focus shifted to pulling together visions for an evaluation system and tracking down missing camper immunization forms. As the summer went on I realized I was witnessing—and doing—some of the work that helps make a non-profit run. Taking a step back, I saw that my tasks were more than busy-work and were, in fact, little pieces in a larger puzzle that took the shape of Arcadia.

Conducting one of the Camper verbal evaluations
That is something I had to remind myself of during some long hours transcribing camper interviews. During Farm Camp, I conducted 103 verbal interviews with campers and I got pretty tired of hearing my own voice. But I didn’t get tired of hearing the excited and enamored way kids talked about Farm Camp. While transcribing could be on par with sharpening pencils, I didn’t doubt that there was some significance to my work. For one, I was hearing from the kids themselves how they overcame their prejudices against bugs, learned to love beets, and had already started to plan their own farm or garden. I was witnessing what very possibly might be a program that incubates a new generation of locavores and farmers. That felt significant. And then I was recording these kids’ comments to be used to identify spaces for improvement and to be used in development efforts. If I could help make such a promising program better, that would be significant enough for me.

A beautiful teaching moment
in the Groundhog Garden
There were many frustrations, particularly during Farm Camp – such as when I was trying to figure out how to get campers to walk to the bathroom, not run. There were times that these frustrations made me question why I was there, but those moments were quickly overrun with moments of delight. I have one memory I’m particularly fond of: One morning as campers were arriving, I found myself surrounded by some campers inquiring about compost. They were amazingly interested in something I personally find fascinating. I gave them a detailed explanation, and they listened. I was nerding out and the campers were cool with it.

Another significant part of this internship was making personal connections with the amazing people who work and play at Arcadia. From staff to campers, I met some inspiring and dedicated people. When I came to Arcadia I did not have much experience working with children, but with the patience and guidance of my fellow Camp Counselors, Morgan, and the campers themselves, I quickly learned.  I hope to see them all again in the future.

A Farm Camp staff Pyramid out our
Farm Camp Closing Celebration
At the end of the day, I fell asleep fast and slept hard. It was definitely an internship; many days I was working from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to sleep and often times it was just sending emails or cross-checking a spreadsheet. But when it came time to say goodbye to Arcadia and its plants, people, and William the farm cat, I took a moment to consider what I had done, how I had helped, and how the experience had helped me. I had done a lot. I helped take some of the load off of others both in the present and in the future. The experience helped teach me about the successes and challenges of a peri-urban sustainable farm trying—and often succeeding—to reach out to the community around it.

Thank you Arcadia for giving me an internship different from all the others, teaching me about the non-profit world, letting me rediscover the wonder of discovery through working with children, and introducing me to some amazing people with an amazing vision.

Weeding and learning about
swiss chard with a camper

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