“With it being so hard to make a living as a farmer, is it just the will to do it that keeps people farming?”
That was just one of the many questions this year’s crop of 15 Agriculture Conservation Corps interns asked during a “Careers in Sustainable Agriculture” panel during the penultimate week of their internship.
The panel, which was set up as a Q&A session with Fred Tutman, a Patuxent Riverkeeper and farmer, and Garrett Graddy-Lovelace, a professor at American University focused on international agricultural policy, ended up serving as a chance for the students to delve deeper into everything they learned in the weeks leading up to it.
The Agriculture Conservation Corps (ACC) program offers an introduction to varying aspects of sustainable agriculture, from animal husbandry to production farming, all while providing a local historical context. And this year’s high school interns came to the Foundation through a partnership with the Prince George’s County Youth@Work Summer Youth Enrichment Program.
After spending a week each on subjects like permaculture, urban farming, homesteading, and careers in sustainable agriculture, the panel gave students the opportunity to learn how this internship could continue to serve them well after their final presentations on August 12. They discussed not only what a career in agriculture could look like, but how someone without a green thumb could advocate for the sustainable farming community and food justice through daily choices.
During the permaculture week, Patricia Ceglia taught a class on hugelkultur (a German growing technique), and the students were able to build their own hugel on the Ecosystem Farm. The urban farming week included a field trip to ECO City Farms, a brainstorming session for urban farming inventions (the winning idea involved using a warehouse to combine a food pantry with vertical growing space), and a vacant lot debate: urban farm versus housing development. Homesteading week involved hands-on activities, such as pottery making (using clay harvested on-site), canning jam, wool dyeing, and a National Colonial Farm homesteader relay against visiting students from ECO City Farms.
While it’s unlikely that all 15 interns will pursue a career in sustainable agriculture after graduating, it was clear during the panel that much of what they learned has taken root in their lives in some way. As they discussed chemical and pesticide use, animal cruelty in factory farms, activism through the arts, and reclaiming the agriculture narrative, the theme of “finding what fascinates you” emerged, and the students were invited to think about all of the different ways they could play a part in the food system.
This final week, the “Capstone Week,” has challenged these 15 students to take what fascinates them and turn it into a project that combines the key elements covered during the internship. Their projects, which include a guinea fowl house on the National Colonial Farm, a sunflower maze on the Ecosystem Farm, and an updated European section of the Museum Garden, will remain as demonstration spaces for future interns and students interested in exploring sustainable agriculture.
“Before, if asked where my food comes from, I also would have said the grocery store. But now I know there’s a lot of work that goes into it.”–Malik, ACC intern