By Russell Rolffs
Planting trees and tending vines has absorbed the majority of our efforts so far, but education is at the heart of our organization. Gathering Ground’s internship is entering its fourth year in 2021, and we are excited about how the program is growing. Just as our roots and branches of our trees are extending their reach until maturity, so too are our educational programs.
The program is an educational internship, which means for us that we dedicate a significant amount of time to education – reading, writing, and discussion – on many areas of relating to horticulture and food studies. The audience we wish to reach with our internship program is post high school young adults with a love of the outdoors and a budding interest in agriculture, environmentalism, or conservation.
This year we are delighted to have received some great applications, and we have begun to hold interviews and anticipate sending invitations to join the program.
The major challenge for the growth of the program currently is housing – specifically, a lack of it. The number of students we can accept each year is limited due to a lack of housing, and so Gathering Ground will be hosting a Thought Circle of interested community members to discuss options for solving the housing issue for future years. In the meantime, we are excited to open the internship to two to six students (depending on housing) in 2021.
The internship consists of three primary components, each of which, given the short length of the internship, is meant to give students a taste of the knowledge and skills held in each.
First, Seminar, we read and discuss big topics. Agroecology, or the application of the ideas and principles of ecology to food systems, is the broad discipline we use to approach these big ideas. We will focus on cold climate grape-growing (viticulture), especially organic management of northern vineyards; the farm as habitat for wildlife; community and cooperative approaches to agriculture; and the integration of trees and animals in cropping systems (agroforestry).
Second, Hands-on Horticulture, we take time each work session to learn about the science and practice behind what we do on the farm in caring for our vines, trees, garden plants and sheep. We organize these lessons to explain the what, why and how behind the labor we do together. Then, with that knowledge in hand, we do the farmwork!
Third, Farm Visits, we visit local farms to learn about the enormous variety of shapes that local agriculture can take. Our goal will be to learn about the nuts and bolts of the farm, but also the business components and all that goes into running a farm. We hope that these visits bring to life what it is to work on a farm and own and operate a farm, including all the joys and difficulties.
Although the internship is short, just six weeks, we also make opportunity for interns to gain a little more mastery and confidence in a particular area of Gathering Ground. One student may be more interested in managing pasture for the sheep, while another is interested in a healthy balance of carbon and nitrogen in the composting bins, and yet another is interested in addressing disease in the vineyard.
You will have opportunities to meet our interns this summer as we will be welcoming the public to join us for our seminars or volunteer to work alongside them for a morning or afternoon each week. Please welcome them to the Island and ask them a lot of questions – they should have a lot to tell you!