One of the really singular aspects of working at Green Chimneys is our farm internship program. For the garden, we have 2 interns from May through November. Half of their time is spent on the Brewster campus, and the other half is spent at Boni-Bel, our organic farm down the street. At each site our interns learn about many aspects of gardening, as well as how to use nature-based education to work with kids with special needs. Each intern brings a different set of skills and a unique personality, which really keeps things fresh. It’s also a big marker of time.
The students of Green Chimneys benefit greatly from these interns, who are able to spend a dedicated chunk of one-on-one time every week with them. After intensive training and observation, the interns lead 45-minute sessions with each assigned student as part of our “Learn and Earn” program. Interns provide guidance and develop tasks for each student to impart a sense of commitment, responsibility and accountability. Relationships are formed and skills, both social and horticultural, are learned.
This week one of our garden interns had a great idea. Sarah noticed that some of our lettuce was beginning to bolt (when a plant begins to go to seed and the leaves take on a bitter flavor) and suggested feeding it to the farm animals in the Teaching Barn.
This is actually Sarah’s third internship at Green Chimneys. From September to June, Sarah interned at the Teaching Barn where she and student Jeremiah first began their “Learn and Earn” sessions. Now they meet weekly in the garden, where Jeremiah can continue to learn about nature working alongside Sarah. And since Sarah knows how much he enjoys working with the animals, she figured having Jeremiah feed the bolted lettuce to the farm animals would be a big hit. And it was!
Sarah noted that Jeremiah was very careful about doling out the garden goods. He wanted to make sure there was enough to bring to all of the animals, including the bunnies, pigs, sheep, goats and chickens, so he monitored how much was given to each area. Jeremiah was also very attentive to the fact that some animals are pushier than others; he took his time in spreading the lettuce out so all of the animals would get a fair shot at some of the fresh produce.
The next day, when I asked Jeremiah how his session went, a huge smile spread across his face as he exclaimed, “I’m Vegetarian Santa!” This made me smile, especially knowing that Sarah is a vegetarian. I enjoyed seeing how he incorporated a concept he likely learned from her to describe himself. He also asked if he could deliver more lettuce to the farm next Monday when he meets with Sarah again. Whatever task Sarah chooses, it will undoubtedly provide Jeremiah additional opportunities to build his self-esteem through work, enjoy an adult’s undivided attention, learn about horticulture by gardening, and help him draw connections between the garden and the animals he so loves.