I am five months and two days (is it really already March?!) into my service year with the Accokeek Foundation, Volunteer Maryland, and AmeriCorps. There are times when I feel as if I haven’t accomplished anything I was sent here to do. I feel as if the weeks are slipping away into months, and there is no way I will possibly meet all of the goals I set for myself in September. The e-mails and calls seem to never stop coming in, the paperwork in all its glorious tediousness seems to never stop piling up, and the cat seems to always want to lay directly on my keyboard. Then there are times like this week, AmeriCorps Week, which has given me pause to reflect on what my service with Accokeek has meant to me and all that I’ve done up until this point. And I’ve found that what the foundation, Volunteer Maryland, and AmeriCorps have helped me to accomplish is pretty cool.
The foundation held its first ever Winter Farm Market in the education building this January and February, and my first big project was helping our Ecosystem Farm manager, Becky, recruit volunteers to help harvest the produce and run the market. The market turned out to be the highlight of my week over the long, cold winter. Not only were we able to connect with community members who had never purchased produce from the farm before, but we were able to connect with local vendors who sold everything from cake-pops to table-top composting systems. It was such a wonderful community space and I met some truly wonderful people through it–not the least of whom were our three volunteers. January and February are miserable months to be farming–it’s cold, it’s brown, and it’s cold. Yet here were three volunteers who came out every single week to care for the produce, harvest the produce, and sell the produce and I don’t think we could have done it without them. One of the volunteers, Holli, liked us so much that she applied for one of our Ecosystem Farm apprentice positions and started working with the foundation last week. It’s so cool to think that her volunteer position with us has helped her get one step closer to her agricultural goals.
At the end of February we were lucky enough to host a group of Alternative Spring Break volunteers from Brandeis University in Massachusetts. I am still amazed when I think about the amount of work that those 11 students were able to accomplish in just four days with us. Through the cold, the rain, and the mud, they worked 170.5 hours. They built a new fence around the Virginia gourdseed corn field on the National Colonial Farm, they cleared brush and low-hanging branches from all of the trails surrounding the Ecosystem Farm, they repaired broken fence-lines in the cow pastures and fed the livestock, and they cleared beds and mulched the walkways in the high tunnel on the Ecosystem farm in preparation for the season. So much of what we do here (seed-saving, historic interpretation, stewardship of Piscataway Park, preserving heritage breeds of livestock, and farmer training) relies on the help and support of volunteer groups just like this one, and getting to work with them each day they were here was not only fun, but refreshing.
I’ve recently been working on recruiting new volunteers for positions on the National Colonial Farm. So far we have six volunteers starting with us in March and April that will be either assisting the Colonial Farm Staff with our monthly Foodways program, or helping with the maintenance of our Virginia gourdseed corn field and our Colonial Kitchen Garden. Both positions are such unique opportunities to learn more about the community and its history while educating others. Our Foodways program focuses on why we eat what we eat, and how what we eat has changed–with particular emphasis on the distinctive (and often peculiar) recipes that distinguish Southern Maryland cuisine from anywhere else in the world. Our Virginia gourdseed corn is an eighteenth century variety that was back-bred by former National Colonial Farm Director, Ralph Singleton. In the last few years, drought and lack of help has made saving this corn seed almost impossible, so these new volunteers will play an integral role in the success of our seed saving program. I can’t wait to see what our Colonial Farm volunteers will be able to accomplish this summer, as they’ve already begun inspiring staff to think about new ways of engaging the community.
Each month when I enter all of the volunteers and their hours into the database and run my volunteer report, I’m so inspired that our volunteers are willing to give so much of their time to this organization. Just this year, in only two months’ time, our volunteers have served over 569 hours in six different program areas. Everyday (well, almost everyday) I come to work, I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to work with volunteers, and though it can be easy to get lost in the mundane of my day-to-day tasks, I’m lucky to be constantly surrounded by people who remind me of the reason I decided to serve through AmeriCorps in the first place. That is how AmeriCorps works for me.