My name is Melanie Kirtland, and I’m a junior Anthropology major at Whitman. This semester I have been interning with the Walla Walla Valley Farm to School Program. As an intern, it has been my responsibility to host educational activities in the Green Park Elementary School garden during recess. Throughout the week, I work to recruit volunteers from the community who are interested in gardening and teaching. I also collaborate with Beth Thiel, the Farm to School Coordinator, to develop activities each week that are fun for the students while also serving as a garden-related lesson. Creating activities that accomplish both of these goals is quite difficult! Since my garden club runs during Green Park’s recess, the students are especially in the mood for exciting activities, which has required a good deal of creativity to come up with. Through lots of learning from what didn’t work and from blatant comments of “This is boring” from some honest kiddos, I was able to host some engaging and relevant garden activities.
One thing that really shocked me while hosting garden club was how excited the students were to try the different vegetables in the garden. Since I’ve been working in the fall, the most abundant veggies have been greens, like kale and arugula. So, I’ve been working with veggies that usually rank close to the bottom as far as desirability for young kids. But I found that in this setting, giving the students the opportunity to pick the greens themselves, and mix them with flower petals or other herbs got them excited to try these greens. Students would come by every week and ask to pick different greens that they found a new love for, which was lovely to see. This sort of interaction with the garden and trying new foods from the garden is one of the main goals of the Walla Walla Valley Farm to School Program – which hopes to encourage healthier eating that supports small farms.
In addition to running garden club activities, I’ve also spent this semester putting together information about gardening in this region, like what crops grow best, when to plant them, etc. The goal of this project is to have organized planting and gardening information on the Walla Walla Valley Farm to School program’s website for new gardeners to easily access. Another aspect of this project has been researching what wild plants in the area are edible. This information will also be added to their website with the hope that it will encourage people to make use of these wild edible plants instead of pulling them up as weeds. The process of collecting this locally-based information and working to teach some of it to the students at Green Park has helped me feel more connected to the community that I’m in for the time-being, which is an aspect of this internship I really appreciate.
Experiences like Melanie’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