By Anna Ziegler
Wow, was I excited to hear that I would be working outside all day for my second rotation! I was ready to be out in the fresh, fall air and finding out what sustainable farming was all about. Growing up in the city, I had no experience with farming and had no idea what to expect but was eager to find out.
During this rotation of the internship, I worked at the Terp Farm in Upper Marlboro and the UMD Campus Pantry. At Terp Farm, Guy and Nicole led my internship partner, Myranda, and me through the process of harvesting sweet potatoes and a variety of peppers. Right away we learned that a lot of hard work goes into efficient harvesting. Even with muddy hands and an aching back, I decided the effort was worth it. This was the first year Terp Farm grew sweet potatoes. Guy said we were his guinea pigs since we were the first interns helping him harvest them. On the first day we harvested 10 buckets full of sweet potatoes and even found one that was the size of my head!
The peppers we harvested included jalapenos, banana peppers, chileno peppers and poblano peppers. I learned how to tell when each type of pepper was ready to be picked. There was a rhythm of twisting the crops off the vines and cutting off the vines, which I found therapeutic. While Nicole, Myranda, and I harvested, we discussed how important mental health is and how gardening and mindfulness go hand in hand. Gardening can help us disconnect from our daily stressors, focus on the task at hand and reconnect us to nature.
Terp Farm is a sustainable farming operation, which means it is able to produce crops without compromising the ability of future generations to meet its needs. It is on two acres of land and offers four-season vegetable production that usually is provided to the campus dining halls, catering, Green tidings mobile dining food truck, and donated to food-insecure members of the campus and community. Due to the circumstances with covid-19, all of the crops are now being donated to the UMD campus pantry. During this rotation, I was able to volunteer twice at the campus pantry and it was amazing to see the crops I helped harvest be given out to students and staff members. The Campus Pantry works hard to eliminate food hardships at the UMD College Park campus by providing a variety of good quality and nutritious food. While volunteering there, I helped unpack donations, organized the fresh produce, screened for quality, sorted items, and restocked items when low. The Campus Pantry has a goal of creating a hunger free campus and, with the amount of effort I saw them put in, they are on the road to success.
Overall, I am so grateful I was able to gain a better understanding of how food is grown and learn about sustainable farming. I had no idea how much work, planning, and patience it took to maintain a farm. Terp Farm puts many efforts towards sustainable farming and strives to protect the health of the environment. As a future dietitian, I think it is important to have hands-on experience in order to educate the community about local food systems. I left Terp Farm with a lot of mud in my boots but even more knowledge.