Trying to get kids to eat vegetables isn’t always easy. I’m fairly certain its impossible for kids to actually enjoy kale. However, having the opportunity to work with kids like I have at Galen Terrace has allowed me to convince some of them that vegetables aren’t all that bad.
I have been able to work with these kids for about five weeks now. At the beginning of that time, we would go out into the garden and they thought everything was lettuce. Some of them had been out to the garden with their parents, but to most of them, the garden was full of bees and weird plants, and they didn’t associate that with food you eat. Over the course of these few weeks, that began to change.
We began to harvest the ripe vegetables each week for snacks. The kids began to get more and more comfortable out in the garden and could remember the names of plants! They even began to stop freaking out near the bees and bugs in the garden. It started with some tastes of kale, which no one liked. Then we moved on to cucumbers, which we a big hit. Finally, the tomatoes began to ripen. This last week I joined the kids in the garden, I brought along mozzarella cheese. I wanted to make the ripe new cherry tomatoes as delicious as possible, so with the tomatoes, some basil, and the mozzarella, I made some simple caprese salad. Some of the kids loved it, some not so much, but I felt I had gotten a victory. I was able to show these kids that plants weren’t just plants in a garden, they were vegetables. Amazing food was waiting right outside their doors, and now they had a little peak into what they could do with it.
Working in DC has been such a great experience, and while my blog posts so far have been dedicated to describing my work, I thought I should write one about the great benefits of living in the city!
My 5 Favorite Things About DC
Public Transit: Having access to buses and the metro make getting around the city easy and cheap. My typical commute every morning from one side of DC to the other lasts about 45 minutes. If I were driving, it would probably be doubled with rush hour traffic!
Museums and Monuments: Having so many sights to see makes living in DC a constant adventure. There are all the Smithsonian museums, along with the monuments on the national mall, plus tons of other museums throughout DC. They make for great places to visit on the weekends or in the evenings.
Markets: One thing DC has to offer that has become one of my favorite things to go to, are its markets. From the Eastern Market in Capitol Hill, to Union Market in NoMa, to the Fish Market on the waterfront, there are always a ton of people and great food.
Food: DC is a city that didn’t used to be know for its food. However, recently more restaurants with a more diverse selection are popping up all over. Whatever part of the world you feel like eating from, you can usually do it in DC, from Ethiopian cuisine, to Japanese ramen shops, to amazing traditional taco and Mexican food, to Mediterranean restaurants, the list is endless.
Neighborhoods: Another great thing about DC are its neighborhoods. Each one is pretty unique in its house style and personality. Capitol Hill has historic row houses, and always has people out and about. U-Street has high rise apartments with the exciting busyness that accompanies them, while the neighborhood I live in, Brookland, is nice and quiet. Thanks to the Dickinson Internship Grant, I was able to find living in a safe and accessible part of DC.
One aspect of my scope of work is helping to educate children about the benefits of growing and eating fresh produce. I have the privilege of working with kids in the garden at two different three different properties every week. There is one group of kids in particular who started seedlings inside in cups, and I helped transplant their new vegetable plants to the outside garden. Sometimes it is difficult to convey to kids that their tiny plant will soon produce a big tomato, or bushels of green beans, or flowers, or that they do not need to be scared of the bees in the garden. However, by the end of the planting and time in the garden, the kids were comfortable and beginning to understand the way the plants and garden worked as a whole.
This is why I enjoy this aspect of my internship so much. I have the opportunity to change some young minds about the great things that can come out gardens, and how it can actually be fun to work in one!
Changing Old Minds
This week, on top of working with kids in gardens, I also got to work with seniors. One of Somerset’s properties is an affordable senior living community. At this community, I have been working with residents to improve the raised beds and gardens they have available, while listening to their needs as to how I can help them enjoy their garden. The garden has never looked better! There is a large group of residents who love spending their time in the garden, tending to their plants, making my job even more enjoyable. After doing work to fix soil and establish an irrigation system, the seniors have taken their healthy new garden and planted it full of things like tomatoes, greens, watermelon, cucumbers, and flowers.
On top of this gardening effort, we have also been working to help the residents of the senior community save energy and live greener lives. My week ended with a big kick-off cookout at this property, praising those in the community who have made the greatest change in their energy usage, while encouraging and informing of the best ways to recycle. The energy-saving competition reminded me a lot of Dickinson’s energy challenge that happens every spring!
This week, I traveled to Baltimore to a senior living community. At this property, the residents are engaged with the community garden, however, it was in need of maintenance and some care. While there, I worked with the professional urban gardeners from Love & Carrots, a business that operates in the DC Baltimore area. I had to balance the needs and desires of the residents of this community with the expectations of the Love & Carrots gardeners, as well as the expectations of the property and resident coordinators. This was my first experience delegating the ideas of so many different parties involved, however, it turned out great!
While there we set up an automated irrigation system, amended the soil, planted tomatoes and pollinator herbs, and gave the residents an opportunity to plant some things they were most interested in. Working in Baltimore and at a senior community gave me a different perspective from working at other properties in DC. While in Baltimore, I felt that there was a large desire to revitalize some very rough parts of the city, and where those efforts had been made, there was amazing progress. I really enjoy having the opportunity to experience different cities and different properties, each with their own unique community.
Traveling to Baltimore is also incredibly easy. There is a connecting train between DC and Baltimore and its only about an hour ride. Public transit has become one of my favorite things since starting here in DC.
Food Assistance Programs
Another aspect of my internship that I mentioned in my last post, is my focus on food security. This week I helped to evaluate a Somerset property in Anacostia, DC’s most vulnerable neighborhood. I visited the property and had the opportunity to view their community garden, and all the facilities they have on site, and was able to line them up with a food assistance program through the Capital Area Food Bank. There are many under-served residents at this community, so providing food assistance will help to alleviate the difficulties of living in a food desert.
The process of bringing the CAFB to this property involves an inclusive application. Working on the application throughout the week has helped me understand some of the intricacies facing nonprofit organizations and the importance of identifying communities that need assistance.
While my main focuses at work has to do with food security and community gardens, I am also given many opportunities to learn about the development industry, especially having to do with affordable housing. This week I had the opportunity to attend the HAND annual meeting. HAND is an organization which brings together development, construction, architecture, lending, and insurance firms to make it easier for affordable housing projects to take place. This conference stood as an opportunity to meet many people from a wide range of fields, and to have an honest dialogue about the need for and hindrances facing affordable housing in the D.C. area.
Staying afloat as an intern in these massive groups of seasoned veterans of your industry can be really difficult. The second day of my internship, I had an opportunity to attend a much smaller conference than the HAND meeting, yet had a much more difficult time. What I learned from that experience was that walking around a conference with someone who already has a lot of connections is the most useful strategy to learn from these giant meetings. As I quickly learned, these are mostly networking events, and many people already know each-other at these conferences. Therefore, having someone who has been in the field for a while is a useful person to be near. They can make introductions, give explanations, and be an overall guide as to how to get the most out of a large conference.
Raised Beds from the Dead
On top of the conference this week, I still got my fair share of gardening done. My goal for work has been to seriously establish a garden at each property every week. This week, I focused on Webster Garden’s raised beds. Before I started my work, they were overgrown, low on soil, and lackluster. I amended the soil, weeded the beds, and planted tomatoes, beans, herbs, and pollinating flowers. At this property, there is a need to introduce children to the vegetables that can be grown and eaten. Now I want to take part in educating the summer group of kids to teach them how to manage a garden, and how to make the most of harvesting fresh herbs and veggies.
This week at Somerset, I finally got to get my hands dirty! After assessing most of the properties in my first week, I started to clean up some of the gardens to prep for gardening programs with the residents. Some gardens are well cared for, while some are underutilized, and I am working to find out why and how I can improve these gardens.
I haven’t been alone in my efforts at every property to become engaged in the gardens. Here at Urban Village, there is an excited group of residents who want to keep their garden beautiful and vibrant. They want to continue to plant more herbs, tomatoes, kale, and peppers. This group of residents is exciting to work with because they already a desire to supplement their diet with healthy, homegrown vegetables. If this attitude can be spread to other residents at other properties, to spread a knowledge and aptitude of growing vegetables, I will feel accomplished in my efforts.
Gardening hasn’t been my only focus this week, however. After visiting all the properties in my first week, I began to construct an interactive map that outlines the closest amenities to each property throughout D.C. I included the closest farmers market, grocery store, metro station, while also showing the convenience stores within the vicinity. This has been an interesting and enlightening way to learn about not only the properties, but also the city and area of D.C. and some of the issues its residents face.
Throughout the summer I hope to add more and more content to the map, while consistently improving the resources they have most readily available; their community gardens!
Wow, after one week at Somerset, I’ve never felt more like a real person in the real world. Waking up for work, taking the metro, walking around D.C. not as a tourist but as a member of the workforce (sort-of), has been a great experience. The people I work with at the Somerset office have made me feel right at home. Working for a real-estate development company has given me a unique perspective into life in D.C. I would not have received if I were just visiting. Just this week, I traveled across the city to seven separate properties that have shed a light on the life many face in urban areas.
Somerset Development is a company that specializes in developing affordable housing through programs that subsidize residents to pay sub-market rent prices. This allows people who are facing unemployment, food insecurity, and even homelessness to have the security of having reliable and safe housing. Somerset also fosters strong communities through supplemental education programs, summer programs for kids, job training, and food and nutrition programs. My specific tasks while working at Somerset this summer, fall under the food and nutrition programs.
This summer I will be assessing the community gardens at each Somerset property in D.C. and provide feedback and assistance to improve resident relationships with gardens and provide them agency through the potential to grow their own food.
This first week has been a basic week of introductions, both with people and the sites I’ll be working with. So far, everyone has been incredibly excited about connecting residents to urban gardens. Some gardens at some properties are doing incredibly well and are thriving, while others need more work. I want to find out what may work at one place and why it isn’t at other properties. By the time I report back next week, I will have begun my work on each garden, and will be ready to start to meet residents and get them excited about gardening!
Surviving in Week One
I loved my first week, and overall it went pretty smoothly, so I decided to lay out some advice and tips to show how I went about my first week.
Plot out your commute to work: If you’re in a new area for the summer, don’t let your first day at work be the first time you figure out how to get to work. Familiarize yourself with the area, the public transit, whatever will help, that way your first day, and week, can be that much less stressful.
Talk to people at work: There’s no point in being a stranger at work, get to know people! Chances are they’ll be super nice, and want to help you fit in.
Meet with your supervisor: Make sure you know what is expected of you, and try to make yourself useful. There’s nothing worse than being confused about what to do, so make yourself know, and show your skills.
Learn about yourcompany and co-workers: Understand what the company your working for does, and why it does it. Talk to your co-workers and find out why they work there too. This will give you a great picture into the values of your workplace.
Don’t be afraid to speak up and share: You’re an intern, but your purpose is to help! If you have good ideas or experiences, share them, sometimes it will be really valued, and what better way to get off on the right foot than to share good ideas?