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Two Students Start a Food and Farming Internship Program for Local High School Students

Priscilla Bassett SC '12 (at left in pink shirt) and Sam Lewis '10 (in red hat) teach interns how to lay irrigation tape in a raised planting bed at the Organic Farm.

Priscilla Bassett SC '12 (at left in pink shirt) and Sam Lewis '10 (in red hat) teach interns how to lay irrigation tape in a raised planting bed at the Organic Farm.

A intern plants a squash plant in a raised bed at the Organic Farm. The bed will contain corn, beans and squash.

A intern plants a squash plant in a raised bed at the Organic Farm. The bed will contain corn, beans and squash.

This summer, Sam Lewis ’11 and Priscilla Bassett SC ’12 decided to get out of the classroom and onto the Farm—and take some high school students with them. The pair founded Cultivating Youth-Earth Connections, a new internship program that taught 11 local teens about food production, farming, and the relationship between food and environmental and social justice issues.

“The idea came from the fact that there’s an unfair access to environmental education in the Inland Empire and the communities where these students are coming from,” says Lewis, an environmental analysis policy major. “There’s really no opportunity for them to access safe, green spaces to learn and grow their own food.”

Last spring, Lewis and Bassett received a Davis Projects for Peace Grant for the project; Lewis also received a SURP for the summer. Lewis then utilized the connections he made working at the Draper Center for Community Partnerships to approach local schools and groups to make presentations and recruit students. They ended up finding 11 students to join; most are rising juniors and seniors from Pomona, with one student from Montclair and one from La Puente.

The group spent 30 hours each week for six weeks learning how to grow food at different locations: the Pomona College Organic Farm; Amy’s Farm, an organic farm in Ontario; Tri-City Community Garden in Pomona; and a community garden in Glendora. The students weeded, composted, planted and harvested. At Pomona alone, they built and irrigated raised beds and planted corn, beans, squash and other vegetables.

Lewis and Bassett’s curriculum also included showing films like Food Inc. and The Garden and going on field trips to a dump, Mt. Baldy, and the Bakersfield farm started by the farmers from The Garden. They learned about composting--two students built a bicycle-powered composter--and got a lesson in beekeeping from Russ Levine, an Upland beekeeper who offers bee husbandry workshops at Pomona’s Organic Farm. They also had a “college day,” leading the students on a tour of the Pomona campus, eating in the dining hall, and attending a discussion led by Sergio Marin, program manager at the Draper Center, about general perceptions of college and different types of oclleges.

“I personally love what [Lewis and Bassett] are doing because this, more than any traditional classroom exercise, makes science and agriculture real to young people, and gives them a whole new sense of how we could build and retrofit our cities and create green urban corridors for the future,” says Associate Professor of Politics Heather Williams, who was Lewis’s SURP advisor on the project. Professor of Environmental Analysis Char Miller and Farm Manager Juan Araya also helped out with the project, says Lewis.

“If people have space, if they have soil, if they have seeds, it’s really possible to do anything,” says Bassett, an environmental analysis major. “And while I really do believe there’s a science to this kind of stuff, if you have the opportunity to try [growing food], you can.”

And some the students have or are planning to grow food at their own homes. Mariana Zaragoza, a Pomona High School junior, said she and her grandmother have planted tomatoes, onions, beans and a lime tree this summer.

“A lot of people my age don’t do this kind of work. They think it’s hard labor and things like that,” says Hyosun Hong, a Montclair High School junior. She and her parents just moved into a new house and are “planning to make a garden using the things I learned this summer.”

Lewis and Bassett are going to try to find funding to institutionalize the program, so that it may continue after they have graduated. “We’ve had a lot of great support and advice and cheerleaders,” says Bassett, “but we kind of created this from the ground up and it’s been incredibly successful, so we really are interested in keeping it going.”