Hi, my name is David Dregallo and I’m a rising senior majoring in environmental studies-sociology. This summer I’m interning at Mill Village Farms in Greenville, South Carolina. Mill Village Farms is a non-profit focused on using sustainable agriculture to help students develop basic job skills that can be applied to later employment.
Pulling weeds is a tedious task. Not many people enjoy it. Especially not the crew of fourteen to fifteen-year-olds fanned out over the raised bed in front of me. Though two or three pull weeds, the majority of the others lounge in between beds on the warm South Carolina clay and talk of video games, how hot the weather is, and what they want to spend their first pay check on. They pull the weeds absentmindedly, more as a way to occupy their hands while talking. I begin to try and think of something to tell them to get them back on task. That lounging on the job is not acceptable. But then I try to put myself in their shoes. Instead, I tell them that we’re almost done, let’s get excited for lunch.
Therein lies the biggest struggle of my internship this summer at Mill Village Farms: how to motivate early high school age students to work quickly and efficiently at gardening tasks, while also keeping the work atmosphere relaxed and supportive. These are issues that I never would have imagined myself facing in my role as farm apprentice. Though not charged with leading a crew of students like some of my fellow interns, I do work with the students four days of the week. This entails a constant push and pull of motivation and explanation for a seemingly mundane or tiring task such as spreading compost, pulling weeds, or removing caterpillars from tomato plants.
A typical day begins at our Sullivan Street location where the other farm interns and I meet with our farm manager to go over what needs to be accomplished that day. Students arrive by 8:30 AM, and we begin our day with our word of the week presentation, and morning stretches. I will often take one or two crews to one of our three farm locations, and our farm manager will take the other two crews to a different location. We work from the morning until the early afternoon, when our work day ends, and we return to the Sullivan Street farm as parents pick up their children. Though a simple routine, tasks vary from day to day, and in that mutable nature lies a consistency. On Wednesdays, the students attend classes that focus on soft skills often left out of high school curriculum such as nutrition, personal finance, and smart grocery shopping.
I work with crews most days of the week, but I also work with our farm manager to do more of the managerial and planning aspects of the farm. This includes planning what vegetables or flowers we are planting, setting irrigation schedules, and deciding what crews we want to be doing what tasks. This is a new role for me, yet one that I enjoy greatly. I have worked on farms in the past, but I have never stepped into a more managerial role. There is much to learn, and I often find myself just nodding in agreement with the ideas of our farm manager. I am beginning to see the incredible amount of planning and organization that goes into running a farm. This organization and forethought is a skill that can be taken off farm and into my everyday life.
This internship can be challenging at times as expectations butt heads with reality and students spend more time running away from spiders than harvesting tomatoes. But to paint it as anything but humbling and rewarding would be doing both Mill Village Farms, the students, and my fellow interns a disservice. I would like to thank both Whitman College and Mill Village Farms for giving me the opportunity to participate in this internship, and for providing the funding to make it possible.
Experiences like David Dregallo’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 Mitzy Rodriguez