The urban farming learning curve

Editor’s note:  This is the second of Adam Donnelly’s updates from his summer internship at Community Greenhouse Partners, a startup urban gardening and permaculture initiative in inner-city Cleveland.  Click here to read his first update from June.

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The summer moved quickly at Community Greenhouse Partners. Now that my internship is finished, I can look back on how much my knowledge I’ve gained and how much my role in the project has changed. When I started, I needed constant instruction on what to do, how to do it, and what its purpose was. By the end of the internship I was able to work almost independently, seeking out what needed to be done and drawing on previous experience to decide how to best accomplish it. One of the first things I did at CGP was plant a series of beds according to the instruction of the farm manager, Ben. Many weeks later, new beds needed to be planted and Ben was not around to take over the project. So the other intern, Zach, and I used what we learned on that first day and in the previous weeks to guide the planting of these new beds, along with giving instruction to two new interns and several volunteers.

This bed needs planting

By the end of the project Zach and I were primarily responsible for the microgreen program. Microgreens are the first, tiny greens of a plant (we grew sunflower, radish and beet, for example). We were responsible for not only planting them, maintaining them and harvesting them, but had control over what got planted and on what schedule. It was apparent to me how much I had learned about this project in the last several days when I had to walk new interns through the entire process of growing microgreens. I found it extremely difficult to condense 2 and 1/2 months of experience in to a short conversation. To me, this spoke to the value of learning by experience. I found myself unable to transmit many of the things I had learned through trial and error and observation. I may also be a lackluster teacher, but there is certainly a lot of knowledge that simply must come from experience, not instruction.

Greens emerging

I think that is what I’ll take away from this internship, beyond the practical skills of gardening and how to work collaboratively with other people. I learned how important experiential knowledge is, and how being thrown into a situation that you are unfamiliar with is an opportunity to learn new things. I’m excited to take that knowledge with me as I go abroad (to France) next semester, and as I return to Wooster. I would definitely recommend this internship program (and others like it) to another Wooster student next summer.

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