2012 Live It! Project Report
Abbie Shain and Anna French: Summer Camp At Stone's Throw Urban Farm (St. Paul)
Sitting in Markim Hall at the end of Spring 2012 semester with all of the Live It! participants, Karin Trail Johnson advised the assembled group that even the best planned projects would change, possibly even dramatically, through the summer. We looked at each other and smiled, sure that our project was immune to change. We knew, absolutely for sure, that everything, from the partnership with Stone’s Throw Urban Farm to the camp plans, was in place. Only our idealism could match our enthusiasm. Karin was right. The project that we presented that day only existed in that form briefly. That vision, to expand Stone’s Throw Urban Farm’s education and outreach programs through a sustainable agriculture day camp and the instillation of community libraries, did come to fruition. As we initially planned, we used principles of democratic education, drawing on the strengths of the groups we taught to learn deeply and collaboratively. We created spaces for people of all ages to come together and enact their global citizenship by exchanging information. We wanted to grow and provide food for people in underprivileged neighborhoods. We wanted our project to provide new opportunities for people to interact with each other, their food sources, and their urban landscape, and we did.
When we were not on the farm, digging beds and weeding tomatoes, we taught youth about local food systems. We taught at a pre-school in Richfield and the West Minnehaha Rec Center in Frogtown. We taught teenagers from Skyline Towers and Iraqi exchange students. We talked to farmers’ market patrons, CSA shareholders, and fellow farmers about land, agriculture, and local politics. Through this talking and teaching and listening and learning, we engaged in the dynamic process of global citizenship. We became conduits of information and listened and learned and taught deeply as we helped Stone’s Throw Urban Farm continue to provide local, sustainable agriculture to marginalized neighborhoods within the Twin Cities.
As we said in our application, global citizenship relies on collaboration. It is here where our best laid plans changed. Stone’s Throw was a phenomenal host to this project from the brainstorming phases all the way through the summer and fall. However, we began the summer with another primary partnership in the St. Paul Promise Neighborhood Freedom School in Frogtown. We had planned to provide enrichment at the Freedom School camp, teaching sustainable agriculture and planting a garden with the campers who were already enrolled in the program. Unfortunately, due to lack of enrollment, the school let us know that they no longer had space for us in their program, the day before camp was supposed to start.
Looking back, we recognize how important this change was in realizing the deeper goals of our project. Now, we are so grateful for the diversity that all of our groups brought to our teaching and learning. We learned flexibility and problem solving skills when we had funding and curriculum for a camp but no kids. With the many groups of kids ranging from two years old to our peers from Iraq visiting the United States, we had to be flexible. Some of our lessons became a lot more informal than we originally planned, some of them turned into discussions, and some produced unexpected art projects. We had to meet our campers where they were, and that made the act of teaching engaging and educational every day.
Our first day at the West Minnehaha Rec Center, we had a vegetable tasting. W. Minnehaha is a drop-in program, so students come and go as they please. We brought in Dino and Toscano kale, four colors of carrots, two types of cucumbers, a few tomatoes, and a watermelon. We talked about where food comes from and then tasted some from their own neighborhood. Everyone had fun that day, laughing at each other’s’ funny faces when they didn’t like the kale, and later, dripping in watermelon juice for the final treat. The kids argued about which color of carrot was sweetest, between white, orange, purple, and red. They bantered about cucumbers and tomatoes. As we joked and laughed, dripping in vegetable juice, we realized that this is the essence of our project. This food, this exchange, this laughter is where change is going to happen. We are endlessly grateful to the generosity of the IGC to fund our project. It was a joy to work with the land, with our partners, and our vivacious campers to dig deeply into questions of food sustainability. Those questions morphed into larger ones about land use and the economies of small farms that we are still pondering, even after our time on the farm has elapsed. Global citizenship is active and provocative, a process that demands our whole selves. We realize that it has layers, and that change takes time, more time than one summer and a few classes. But, we believe in this mission, in these questions and exchanges, and ultimately this knowledge of citizenship and change as a process that we can and did enact this summer.