Monday through Friday, a day at the Blue Mountain Land Trust looks similar to one at most other offices. Four interns and three staff crowd into a space the size of three Jewett rooms on the third floor of a brick building off Main Street. We like to joke around and have fun, but for the most part our weekdays as interns are filled with menial tasks – restocking supplies, creating spreadsheets and guest lists, and sending an ungodly number of emails. On the weekends, though, our role changes.
Every weekend from April through October, the Land Trust puts on community events through our Learning on the Land program. The program’s intent is to connect Walla Walla residents with their natural surroundings, both to give context to the Land Trust’s environmental work and to foster locals’ sense of place and appreciation of nature. The events are generally incredibly successful: for the excursion pictured above, fifty people joined us for an evening of photography, sightseeing and wine-tasting in the Grande Ronde Valley. We recently opened a second section of a foraging workshop with the Forest Service because so many people joined the waitlist; the new section sold out within a day. Everyone who participates in our trips seems engaged and really enjoys their time – which is saying something, considering that our attendees range from six-year-old kids to eighty-five-year-old couples who’ve lived in Walla Walla their entire lives. Somehow, without tailoring our trips too specifically, we offer something for everyone. For my part, I think everyone loves the excursions because they get to spend some time in nature, away from their day-to-day lives, and interact with people who share their interests. No one can be that upset in a sunny forest or a field full of wildflowers.
Something that’s been a surprise to me this summer has been the variety of ideologies that people who attend our events hold. I’d anticipated that I’d be interacting mostly with socially conservative older locals; while my preconceptions weren’t entirely false, there are a surprising number of younger, more liberal people who attend our workshops. Every event draws participants from a range of ages, backgrounds, and values, including when it comes to the environment. I wasn’t quite sure when I started what to expect in this respect; would less sustainably-minded people ignore the conservation aspect of the Land Trust and participate just for the entertainment, or would most people be on the side of environmentalism? The answer is that there are both, and that most people aren’t just in one camp: while some people definitely fall hard on one side of the proverbial divide or the other, for the most part people who attend our tours balance the traditional values of agrarianism with modern ideas of preservation.
During my first event, our bus’s microphone was passed to a local farmer. He pointed out the brown fields that lay outside the window. The reason for their color, he explained, was the use of a technique called chemfallow, which uses a pesticide chemically similar to the infamous Roundup to fallow, or kill remaining plant matter, after harvest. While my internal Whitman ES student flared up immediately at the mention of Monsanto, the man acknowledged that Roundup gets a bad rap, but that chemfallow can be a useful tool for farmers and even a more sustainable option than traditional tilling, which can result in erosion and soil loss. I’d never thought about this argument’s other side – and upon closer introspection, I was surprised at myself, as a liberal-minded person, for being so conservative when it comes to agriculture. The old way being the best way isn’t a value that I usually adhere to, but in this case I’d automatically turned to that idea in the name of conservation. The interaction made me think critically about my own ideas when it comes to labels like “local,” “liberal,” “environmental,” and “conservative;” I have a lot more to learn as the summer continues, but I’m already starting to realize that the boundaries between categories of ideology and environmentalism are a lot less defined than we think they are within the green bubble of Whitman – and that’s a good thing.
Experiences like Claire’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Victoria Wolff