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The Nature Corner: Project Grows

By Ernie Marshall

I have written in this column of inspiring endeavors that strike me as quite environmentally worthy. Here are a couple of recent examples.

I wrote “Oysters, Yum, Yum” about “Restaurant to Reef,” an oyster shell recycling program to build oyster reefs in the Pamlico Sound.

My column “Marvelous Monarchs” concerned a program at the John White Butterfly Center in the Elizabethan Gardens on Roanoke Island, including raising milkweed, host plant of monarch butterflies’ larvae, nurturing the butterflies to adulthood and having “releases” back into the wild.

[Both of these columns are much in debt to articles published in The Coastland Times.]

Let me take you to the Shenandoah Valley in western Virginia to take a look at another environmentally outstanding program, called “Project Grows.”

The project’s focus is partly captured in the phrase “garden-based food education.” The farm grows over 40 different kinds of vegetables, which it sells at different venues including farmers markets, wholesale and farm stands such as the one run by the youth of the Waynesboro Boys and Girls Club. The program combines educating youth about healthy foods and how they grow and providing healthy food to the community.

Let one of the folks who worked on their farm this summer, my granddaughter Patricia Ward, a high school senior from Stanton, Virginia, fill you in with her recent interview with me.

How did you learn about Project Grows, and what attracted your interest? How they get the word out to youth about the available jobs?

My guidance counselor shared the application; it was very straightforward, simply saying that it was on the farm and sharing the hours per week and wage. I already wanted a summer job and this just seemed like a really interesting opportunity that offered just that.

Describe your job; what is a typical work day like?

We really just did whatever had to be done. That usually involved weeding, but it also involved things such as transplanting and laying down weed suppressants (i.e. straw or landscaping fabric – they just block the weeds’ ability to grow by covering the soil). At the beginning of the day, we’d check in at the barn, see how everyone was doing, then assign groups and get to work. There was also a prominent education factor; we’d discuss plant families and permaculture, which has to do with not causing any harm to the land.

This CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) email has a small article I wrote about what we’d been doing on the farm at the bottom: https://mailchi.mp/efa39f067df7/pg-csa-week-4994581?e=cd9d5ab9aa: It may also offer you some information on the CSA; I don’t know much about it.

Here are some other CSA emails with other youth leaders’ snippets at the bottom:

https://mailchi.mp/0517ed924edd/pg-csa-week-5004609?e=f03d6c2feb

https://mailchi.mp/5bd81fbfa93b/pg-csa-week-5031273?e=f03d6c2feb

https://mailchi.mp/d25828449158/pg-csa-week-5045657?e=f03d6c2feb

What do you like most about the job, and the least?

I really enjoyed getting to know my co-workers and meeting new people; there were people that would visit and discuss various things such as insects and soil health. While it was interesting to learn about the topics and how they affected our work at the farm, it was possibly even more interesting to learn about those people’s lives; many of them hadn’t followed standard life routes, but they were doing what they loved, and what made a difference.

As far as what I didn’t like, the job was simply overwhelming. Not only physically, but just trying to keep up with tasks and adjust to the various events such as camp that went on on the farm.

What have you learned from this experience?

Just as expected, I learned about caring for plants and the ecosystem, but I also learned a lot of self-regulation skills and a lot of trying to operate at my best regardless of the situation. Often, I had to self-check the quality of my work and I had to deal with stress and still try to be efficient.

Have you made new friends there? Why are they there?

Most of my co-workers were there for a similar reason to me; they just wanted a job, and this was an interesting opportunity. The supervisors and one or two coworkers, though, were really trying to interact with the food system in a productive and eco-friendly way.

How long did you work there?  

About two months.

Any other details about the place?  

They have a lot of community involvement; beyond just the CSA and farmer’s market, they interact with the schools a lot and try to offer healthy and high-quality food. A lot of our harvests went to either the local schools or the boys’ and girls’ club.

How many people work there? 

There were three people who both worked on the farm and closely with the education program and then there were a couple of other people who specifically worked on the farm and managed it and its community involvement.

What are some of their special (organic, whatever) means of farming?

A couple of prominent things that they did to protect the environment were avoiding tilling and pesticides. Tilling can release excess carbon into the air, so they only interacted with the surface level of the soil and tried to treat it carefully so it wouldn’t become compacted too much (no stepping on the beds!). Of course, pesticides are unhealthy, aren’t good for the environment and kill everything, not just pests, so we’d have to manually (by hand, or putting them in a bucket with soap and water) kill bugs that were damaging the plants.

Go to www.projectgrows.org for more information about Project Grows and important links.

Ernie Marshall taught at East Carolina College for thirty-two years and had a home in Hyde County near Swan Quarter. He has done extensive volunteer work at the Mattamuskeet, Pocosin Lakes and Swan Quarter refuges and was chief script writer for wildlife documentaries by STRS Productions on the coastal U.S. National Wildlife Refuges, mostly located on the Outer Banks. Questions or comments? Contact the author at marshalle1922@gmail.com.

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