As one of the few students fortunate enough to have an in-person internship (rather than virtual) this summer, Jenna Smith, a rising junior sociology major, is especially appreciative of her hands-on experience at Bellwether Farm, as supported by The College of Wooster’s APEX program.
“I was able to follow through with my internship because of the nonprofit’s symptom checking routines, social distancing protocols, and staff quarantine. We diligently ensured one another’s safety by following guidelines for citizens and businesses, and I am incredibly lucky and grateful to have had this opportunity,” stated Smith. “While I couldn’t give farm tours or convince 8-year-olds to eat tomatoes, I’ve gained a holistic, loving experience through interactions with my amazing team and the beautiful property.”
Bellwether Farm, located in north-central Ohio, is a camp, retreat, and education center that offers a model of sustainable living. Smith’s duties vary, but they primarily revolve around the center’s agricultural fieldwork – an educational and eye-opening experience for a people person. With all of the summer programming cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she has found herself spending more time with farm animals and vegetation than ever. “I never before imagined myself as a farmer, but I now see the integral role that regenerative agricultural systems play in a rapidly shifting world,” she said.
Whether it was transplanting, weeding, pruning, or harvesting the organic produce or tending to the chickens and goats, Smith gained an appreciation of where food comes from, how to make better use of the world’s resources, and the importance of supporting local farmers. “I never anticipated the excitement of pulling a carrot from the ground for the first time or helping a nearby organization break ground for a learning garden. I forgot to consider the small life lessons of weed whacking, oil changing, taking care of accidental ducks, untangling what felt like 10 hoses, or making conversation with my mentor’s mentor,” she remarked.
While taking care of these day-to-day tasks, Smith has also been observing and picking up on Bellwether’s management techniques to promote sustainable living. “I see the importance of engaging in practices of reciprocity and recognizing our responsibility to restore and build the lands on which we stand and … to live holistically,” and she is now challenging herself “to think about (her) place in the world and (how to) better the land.”
Don’t give her “the title ‘Farmer Jenna’ quite yet,” she joked. As she looks forward to two more academic years at Wooster and beyond, she was able to focus her future goals more clearly through this APEX experience. “I have learned an incredible amount about myself, my goals, and my career throughout this internship. It has given me hope for the future and inspired me to pursue opportunities for food justice, environmental advocacy, and community engagement,” she summed up.