There’s a place east of downtown where Mill Creek flattens into a small wetland. Upstream is the power station. The creek is slow and broad here, punctuated by patches of spongy grass and a slippery concrete shelf built by the Corps of Engineers. More birds than I can name flock to this wetland, and most mornings I watch them from 100 feet away.
My name is Noah Dunn, and I’m a rising senior majoring in German Studies and the Environmental Humanities. This summer, I’m working for the Walla Walla Valley Farm to School Program and the Sustainable Living Center. My purview is maintenance and engagement: in addition to the daily acts of garden care, I am responsible conceiving of and implementing improvements and activities in the gardens to encourage local families to take advantage of them during the summer. This has included mapmaking, educational programming, creating signage, and designing and building assorted structures for use in the gardens. Most recently, to ensure that families can safely enjoy our gardens during the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve designed permanent handwashing stations to be installed at each garden. I’ll begin construction of these stations next week in conjunction with the Builder’s Resupply Store, another subsidiary program of the Sustainable Living Center.
My days either start early or end late. To beat the worst of the Walla Walla heat, I get to the garden by 7:30 or earlier most mornings. When I’m working at Edison Elementary, I get there ten minutes earlier than I need to so I can drink my coffee and watch the Canada Geese come in for landing on Mill Creek. I make a circuit of the garden and pull any outstanding weeds before turning to a specific task, be it soil amending, mending irrigation fixtures, or planting. When our crops are ready—we grow peppers, tomatoes, lettuces and kale, strawberries, radishes, peas, fava beans, and much more—I bring the harvest to the Walla Walla Senior Center, which is still cooking over 300 meals a day for its residents. At Berney Elementary, I’m waging a war of attrition against the belligerent morning glory and other weeds. This last week, I’ve covered most of the pathways with discarded plastic and burlap sacks from the Walla Walla Roastery and cardboard. On days when I sleep through my alarm, which come more often than I’d care to admit, I head to the gardens after dinner so as not to exacerbate my already exceedingly high genetic risk of skin cancer. The beauty of this work is that it is solitary: as such, it’s only necessary for me to wear a mask on harvest days or on the rare days that I work with others on a larger project.
The second half of my work takes place at home. In addition to the design and cost analysis of garden improvements and the creation of educational activities for families, I’ve been putting my GIS skills to use. (This usually garners a disgusted groan from my fellow Environmental Studies majors.) Over the last two weeks, I’ve created a detailed, dynamic map for each garden. The farm to school program will be able to update and reuse these maps well after my internship ends, and I’m very glad to have been able to provide a lasting resource to this wonderful organization.
Gardens are perfect sites for environmental education. A diverse range of interactions is on display: not only how plants may interact through the rhizosphere or how aphids may affect a crop yield, but even how the sodium ions in a soil amendment are taken up into a strawberry and then brought into your body when eaten. The proximity of the Edison garden to an unintentional urban wetland only underscores this further. The more our constructed environments intermingle with those we consider “natural” or “wild,” the more important I believe it becomes that we reconfigure how we think of and how we treat these categories. My academic interests in the Environmental Humanities incline in this direction, just as my career interest orient me toward small, local environmental education nonprofits like the Walla Walla Valley Farm to School Program.
Experiences like Noah’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