The energy in the van was high as we pulled up beside the City Seeds. We turned off the radio and headed into the farm surrounded by the bustling city. We started to work, harvesting chard in the cool morning air. The sun got hotter and hotter as we were given more and more jobs to complete. I watered, dead headed, and sprayed a natural insecticide on rows and rows of vegetables and flowers. I looked up from watering azaleas to the St. Louis Arch standing in the distance. Here I was, in the middle of a large city, working on a farm. Somehow, through all the work, I was able to distance myself from the large looming buildings, sirens, and cars whizzing by. I was in a different world; a world of dirt, the occasional bounding rabbit, and small radishes peeping through the earth. I smiled and looked around; everyone was working hard in the midday sun. My peers, the clients, other volunteers, and employees, a group of people so drastically varied and working so well together, one couldn’t help but admire it.
As I knelt in the dirt hunting for humongous sweet potatoes my back demanded that I stretch. Looking up, as I twisted my spine, I was surprised to find that I was in a city. During my search for the golden potato I had completely forgotten all else. I was no longer worried about my paper, how I was going to make dinner or where we were going next. Before our week in Saint Louis I had never discovered a reason for gardening other than my weekend plans depending on pulling weeds all day. I did not understand why my mom obsessed over her flower beds. I did not understand why people would dedicate their lives to cleaning other people’s lawns. Yet, having worked at City Seeds Urban Farm I feel as if I have come full circle on my opinions about gardening. It was an incredible feeling to be in a big city and feel as if I was in my elementary school’s community garden. It was an incredible feeling to feel completely relaxed in the middle of a place where the action never stops. I finally understand why my mother obsesses over her flowerbeds and landscapers love their jobs. It is because gardening, and farming, require your full attention which erases the world around you. If another task was that demanding it would be stressful yet the simplicity of gardening makes it incredibly rewarding.
This week in St. Louis I deeply enjoyed volunteering at Food Outreach. Food Outreach provides food to people who have cancer or HIV/AIDS. In order to be eligible for all their services their clients are living at 300% below the poverty line. Although, this may seem like a sad place to work or volunteer it was one of the most inspiring places I have ever been. Everyone I saw when I walked in to Food Outreach was upbeat and outgoing. All of the volunteers were ecstatic to be able to give their time and energy to the organization. While at the same time, all of the clients were overly pleased with the nutritional meals they were receiving. As I checked out the client’s groceries they were always up for conversation and were incredibly appreciative. I was surprised and pleased with how happy they all were considering they were all battling serious illnesses. This experience made me realize that no matter what situation you find yourself in you can still be enthusiastic and have a positive impact on those around you.
What another successful week of service! During the course of our week in St. Louis we worked at a variety of different food organizations that tackle the ever growing problem of hunger in the United States. My favorite place we worked at was called Food Outreach. Food Outreach works to provide healthy and nutritious meals for people who suffer from HIV/AIDS and cancer. The reason why I enjoyed working there the most was because of the positive environment I felt immediately upon my arrival. It was obvious that all the staff and volunteers that I interacted with enjoyed their job and were dedicated to the mission of Food Outreach because that compassion was directly reflected in the work they did. Another thing that I really appreciated about Food Outreach was that there was a fully equipped kitchen on site and that they prepared both nutritious and fresh food right there to their customers. They also gave out fresh produce and it was exciting to hear that they came from City Seeds which was another site we worked at for several days. It was great to be able to witness the full circle process that the food went to in order to better the lives of the hungry or the sick. I feel fortunate that I was able to be part of Food Outreach for a day because it opened my eyes to how food at food shelters should be presented to the customers, and it has encouraged me to look more into the types of food that other food shelters provide to their customers.
It was our last day working in St. Louis. We started out at the City Seeds Urban Farms in the morning, which we went to every day. We had a variety of tasks: mending the beds, weeding, mulching, harvesting, and spraying a natural pesticide on the crops. It was the hottest day of the week and we were all working very hard. Normally, in the afternoons we would go work at a food pantry or another indoor location, but today we went to a community garden to do some work. We showed up, and they weren’t expecting us. At first, they were just trying to find some odd jobs for us to do. We turned the compost pile and spread some dirt around. After a while of odd jobs, they found us some other work. It was really hard to stay focused and push through the intense heat and all of the built up tiredness from the week. We had all experienced a really long and tough week and I think a lot of us just wanted to call it quits for the day after only an hour or two. The whole time, we were all thinking, “Why are we doing these random jobs? Are we even helping them?” We all persevered and worked really hard and got a lot of work done. The people in charge of the garden were so appreciative of the work we did and would not stop thanking us for everything. Hearing their praise made it all worth it. I really realized that we are making a difference when we do the service work that we do. Looking back on the week, we accomplished some amazing things. I am so glad to be on the Gap Semester, and it is hard to believe that we are already halfway through our service trips.
Our group went to a farmers market today and got to eat and buy local produce and items. I bought some delicious figs and a t-shirt for my sister. It was really amazing to see all this fresh produce in the month of September. Where I live the farmers markets end in august, so this was an exciting treat. It was also great to see vegetables that we had learned about, and grew in the City Seeds garden, even if we did not grow the exact ones we saw. I can honestly say I did not see any vegetables in the market that I have not seen yet in the garden we worked on. We had worked very hard this week on making a change in the community and it was nice to finally get to taste the vegetables and fruit we worked hard to harvest and grow. I was able to tell most of the people at the booths about the work we did while in St. Louis and some did not even know that the farm we worked on existed. I was happy to tell them and after which they seemed very interested in how to get involved. I ended my time at the farmers market lying back in a chair listening to live folk rock music and sipping on a smoothie. Not a bad way to spend my Saturday morning.
Walking down a small walkway in between two little booths selling something that they just bottled or cooked to sell today while the smell of bread is filling your nostrils is always my favorite part of farmers market. Almost every time I visit a farmers market I learn something new about a product or a company, so when I went to the one in St. Louis I took the initiative to learn more about something that I knew almost nothing about so I decided to get educated on honey. Until I went to that stand I had never tried local honey, I had always bought some big brand honey as it was cheaper and more accessible and I thought that it probably tasted better because they were known but boy was I wrong. At the first taste of that sweet magical substance I felt the need to learn more about it, and therefore I spent most of my time at the market with the honey farmers getting a “lesson” on honey, with information ranging from how honey is made to why some honey is better than other honey, to why local honey tastes sweeter than a factory made one.
One of the reasons why I enjoyed this week so much was because we were able to cook meals for ourselves. While road tripping in the vans we usually ate cereal or bagels for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and take out for dinner. Even at Re-Member, although they had different dinners every night, gave us the same cold-cut sandwiches for lunch every day. This week was the first week we got to cook for ourselves since NOLS and it felt amazing. We split up into cook groups each containing 3 members so that everyone was responsible for one meal. Each person got to pick what they wanted to make for everyone, and before we went grocery shopping, we wrote out a schedule for when people were going to cook their meals. Some seemed surprised by the menu we created, but for me, it came as no surprise that some of my peers wanted to cook elaborate meals. NOLS brought out the creative chef in everyone, and it enhanced the skills of those people who could already cook really well. It’s extremely hard to pick, but I would have to say that my two favorite meals this past week was a breakfast casserole and calzones. The breakfast casserole consisted of eggs, tomatoes, onions, spinach, cheese, sausage, and bacon. The texture, flavor, and perfect temperature of the casserole when it was served are what made this breakfast my favorite. The calzones also had similar qualities. There were different types to choose from but my favorite was the one filled with sauce, mozzarella cheese, bacon, pepperoni, and spinach. The crust was cooked to perfection with just the right amount of crunch. Another reason why this was my favorite dinner was because I was the sous chef and therefore helped create that delicious meal. I think everyone enjoyed the cooking aspect of this week so I hope we continue it as we move forward.
Today we got to live every child’s dream and play in one big wonderland of slides, tunnels, and ball pits. We visited the City Museum in St. Louis. For 3 hours we crawled around in tight, dark tunnels, slid down a 10-story slide, and rode a Ferris wheel. It was a little overwhelming with the amount of activities there were to do. Throughout the day I went to the circus, ran around on a hamster wheel, and went to an indoor skate park. At one point two other girls and I were army crawling through an extremely tight tunnel because someone thought it was a good idea to follow me. After 10 minutes of crawling through the dark wondering if I will ever see the light again we made it out. I definitely learned my lesson that I am not an 8 year old anymore and my ability to run around on giant playgrounds all day is declining. It was awesome though to just have a day to relax and have fun, so I would consider the day a success.