This month’s newsletter is a bit late. I was on a family vacation, in northern Arizona, during the time you usually hear from me. One of the great gifts of northern Arizona is that one can see the night sky with very little light to dull the clarity and the immensity of the stars. We could see the Milky Way, our galaxy, with the naked eye. Using a telescope, we were able to see a star at its birth and star at its death. It was a moving experience, to stand beneath the heavenly array, realizing that there are billions and billions of stars, trillions of miles away from where we stood. As impressed and awestruck as we were by the grandeur of our universe, it did not compare with the stars birthed at CFET this summer.
Yesterday marked the official end of CFET’s summer program with the eco-interns, the assistant farmers and the senior farmer. This group, with the guiding hand of our friends at Food Bank of South Jersey, prepared a delicious meal for family and friends. We enjoyed our meal and each other in Eve’s Garden, on Emerald Street, in Waterfront South, in the shade of the trees on a beautiful late August day. Farmer Jon Compton has guided this group of young people through a rigorous program of experiential learning, that touched not only on the intricacies of planting, cultivating and harvesting a variety of vegetables, but they also learned the intricacies of navigating conflict, working as a team and engaging the public.
There were 8 eco-interns, two assistant farmers and a senior farmer. The senior farmer is Dimitrius Eliza, heading off to Stockton State College in the next week. The assistant farmers were Rickea Bell, already at St. Peter’s College in Jersey City, and Cheyanne Carter-Woods, entering her junior year at Pennsauken Tech. The eco-interns were Anisa Robinson, Hadiya Lindsay, Lulu Vazquez, Josue Lopez, Adrian Peralta, Aniyah Smith, Nate Torres, Josh Ramos, Ricky Bell. They represent LEAP Academy, Brim Medical Arts and Penn Tech high schools.
At the picnic I asked them about what they thought was the best thing about the summer program, what was the most interesting thing they learned this summer, what surprised them about themselves and how what they learned this summer will carry over into their school and family lives. I’d like to share with you what I heard.
The Best Thing:
Learning how to garden and work with others; meeting everyone, seeing how everyone else see’s this program; cooking; the people around me this summer, the community; being a leader; the learning and the community, and also the fact that the food I grew is what people are eating when they buy it from our market; I came because I wanted to earn money, but I found out the joy of building community with amazing people from different communities, people I probably would never have met in any other circumstance ; the drive back from the Rooted In Community conference in North Carolina was amazing.
Most interesting thing I learned:
How to make and eat eggplant parmigiana; I learned that as a boss you can’t talk to the people you are leading anyway you want, you have to respect them and don’t make a big deal out of disagreements; I learned how to build a trellis to support the vining plants; the summer gave me a new perspective on the challenges facing Camden City, people at farmer’s market were excited to get fresh vegetables, urban agriculture is important; I learned how to garden and work with others.
What did I learn about myself:
I learned to be patient growing certain things, like broccoli, there was nothing I could do to make it grow faster, so I had to slow down and let things happen; I found out I am a people person, I am shy, but here I learned to interact in different ways, communicate in different ways with people; I want to give back to my city; even with my nervousness, self-doubt and second guessing I still found a way to get the job done and do what I think is right for the organization; I learned how to handle my emotions, my normal way of handling conflict was to get angry and express that, I’ve learned how to use “I” statements to express my feelings, particularly in conflict situations; I learned that I’m much better around people than I thought, I tend to be a loner, but learned that I do well on a good team.
How is what I experienced this summer going to spill over into family and school life:
The patience that I’ve learned in gardening, will certainly help me in life to allow things to happen, rather than rushing them; I want to be an engineer and will likely want to focus on environmental issues, also I want to volunteer to manage my school’s vegetable garden; I can help out in my family and contribute in class with the communication skills I’ve learned; with what I’ve learned about the structures at work in Camden City, I hope to be able to be confident in identifying the ways in which I can contribute to solving problems; what you eat is so important, so I hope to help with my younger siblings, to make sure they eat more healthy foods; I am a good public speaker, workshop designer and group facilitator, and my knowledge of environmental issues will certainly be pluses in college; if someone disrespects me, I won’t disrespect them because that won’t help, better to “kill” them with kindness; I hope to be more upfront with people in my life, rather than holding things back.
I was so impressed with the quality of their answers, the degree of self-reflection they displayed and the confidence and clarity with which they spoke. In early summer these young people were very reticent and unsure of themselves. Yesterday, with a near total stranger, they opened up readily, offered thoughtful answers to my questions and seemed eager to want to share what they had learned about the environment and about themselves. The experience touched me in the same way as did witnessing the “miracle” of the birth of a star. I don’t know of anything more beautiful than a young person genuinely discovering the beauty and magic that he or she is. CFET made that happen for these 12 young people this summer. They are a blessing to CFET, to their families and schools, and that will continue wherever they find themselves as time unfolds.
The mother of one of the eco-interns was at the picnic and she shared with me that her son has become more respectful and helpful at home, and that he is much more communicative with her. I could hear the joy in her voice, and see it in her eyes; what a blessing for her!
There were only 12 young people in the program this summer, not because of a self-imposed limit; the budget was not capable of supporting more. If you’d like to partner with CFET in order to expand the number of young people in Camden who can have the kind of experience these young people did, be in touch with us. Visit our website at www.cfet.org or call 856-365-8111 to see how you can contribute to the birth of future stars!
Mark Doorley, Ph.D.