Through their work this summer in the College’s community gardens and student farm, Albion students from the Center for Sustainability and the Environment are developing flexible tools for professional and personal success.
August 4, 2022
By Jake Weber
Ashlyn Reed, 23, is a third-generation gardener, but her take on this family passion is surprising.
“There are so many skills that make a gardener successful, and you don’t have to have them all to get started,” she says. “The skills I see in successful gardeners are dedication, a love of getting in the dirt and being a little muddy, tolerance for change and adaptability. If we all took a little more time to sit back and watch the Earth do its best work, we could all have a little more appreciation for what Mother Nature offers us.
Reed’s love of gardening may be unusual for a college student, but it’s set to become more common on campus, thanks to Albion’s Center for Sustainability and the Environment and its inaugural internship program. ‘summer. Since May, six interns have studied everything from groundhog-proof fences to food sovereignty, while literally getting their hands dirty working alongside the Albion Community Gardens.
Underlining CSE’s vision as an engaged and invested member of the greater Albion community, interns spend five mornings a week in the community gardens, trading sweat fairness for apprenticeship-style lessons in caring for the plants, the use of equipment and machinery, and the short- and long-term planning that is essential to the successful harvesting and distribution of their crops. These lessons are then applied each afternoon at the Albion College Student Farm at the Whitehouse Nature Center (WNC), where interns and WNC students are in charge.
“It’s just wonderful to have the energy of young people,” says Dr. Trisha Franzen, professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies and founder and leader of Community Gardens. In addition to endless weeding and labor-intensive organic pest control (read: picking bugs off plants), Franzen notes that the interns set up a 10-foot deer fence, helped to installed a drip irrigation system and happily operated the tiller which is too heavy for many members to handle. “When it was really hot, they also agreed to start at 7 a.m. instead of 8,” Franzen recalls.
The training of trainees in community gardens is also a group project. “People in the garden tell stories, people share the story. Working in the garden taught me more about Albion than many other things I’ve done,” says Franzen. “The students benefit from all this wisdom, about gardening and Albion and so many other things.”
Along with Franzen, the interns also attend meetings of the Albion Community Gardens Board of Directors, where they get an overview of how the citizens of Albion are affected by food affordability and availability. in the city. Through the Albion Community Table, students also participate in the distribution of food, which will eventually include the vegetables they help grow.
“They get to know the food system on a very local level,” adds Franzen. “When we bring food into the neighborhood, we can see what people’s needs are and think about how best to meet those needs.”
‘Under the Hood’ Durability
“In the classroom, we teach a lot about sustainability and environmental conservation, but we often don’t act very locally,” says Dr. Thom Wilch, CSE faculty director and professor in the Department of Earth and Nature. ‘environment. “We try to make the connection between what the students learn and the activities of the College.
To this end, Albion’s facilities and grounds operations teams as well as catering service provider Metz play a role in the internships, providing students with an ‘under the hood’ look at their sustainability-related business. . The interns also visited several regional colleges and universities, giving them the opportunity to see what others are doing — information they can share with the contacts they now have on campus.
“It’s great to see gardens, but there’s a lot of ‘secret’ work involved – like assessing energy use, what kind of pipes are used, how food waste is handled,” adds Daisy Hall, coordinator of the CSE. “I like to see the students’ interest aroused by the technical aspects. There are a lot of very interested and very capable people in the College, and it’s fantastic to bring those people together through CSE.
Growing up on the student farm
The Albion College Student Farm adds a final – and integral – element to the internship, as a place where interns demonstrate what they are learning. Wilch and Hall visit the farm almost daily, but the planning, organization, management, and labor are largely in the hands of the students.
And growth is not limited to plants.
“At the Student Farm, I definitely learned to communicate better and to teach gardening,” says Reed, explaining that until this summer, gardening had mostly felt like a personal exercise. “This internship allowed me to realize the community behind gardening. It takes a group to get an area as large as the community gardens and student farm fully planted and harvested. We can count on each other. »
Octo Morales, 25, is already thinking about teaching the lessons he learned during his internship. “Gardening is an important skill as food prices continue to rise,” he explains. “In a place like Albion, where people have more access to land, gardening and farming can be a perfect way to get extra food and be a great skill to teach the younger generation.”
“Solutions to sustainability issues like climate change depend on policy and system changes, and it can be difficult to see how individual or even community actions have a meaningful impact,” says Wilch, reflecting on the new offering from CSE internships. “Growing food is different because we can see the positive impact now. Teaching students to grow food and to view community food security as a matter of sustainability and equity prepares them to be agents of social change in the future.
“At the end of the day, my favorite moment has to be seeing the progress we’ve made as a group,” Morales says. “It’s such an incredible thought that what I’m doing is not only good for the environment, but also good for the community. I couldn’t be more grateful for this experience.
Ariel Berry contributed to this story.