Kate Weiner ’15 was selected to receive an Enrichment Grant from the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship. Kate leveraged this grant to enrich not only her own work with an innovative social enterprise – the Urban Farms Collaborative – but also to provide enriching hands-on experience for two other Wesleyan students, Sarah Dash and Rachie Weisberg. You can read Kate’s story below, and visit the PCSE website to learn more about our grant programs.
by Kate Weiner
Urban Farms Collaborative is a project designed to link students to internship opportunities on urban farms. The idea to develop the initiative stemmed from my experiences last summer photographing, interviewing, and volunteering with female urban farmers across the East Coast. The female farmers I met with were enormously generous with both their time and support. I wanted to find a way to maintain reciprocal relationships with these women: to give back in energy and effort what they had so graciously given to me. For some of the farms I visited, help with grant writing was most needed: for others, a reliable network of volunteers was in short supply. Deborah Greig, the Farm Manager of East New York Farms, suggested I create an internship program to help with farm operations when ENYF’s Youth Internship Program was not on site.
With the support of the College of the Environment and the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship, Urban Farms Collaborative was able to connect two students—the incredible Sarah Dash and Rachie Weisberg—with internships at East New York Farms. I am conducting my thesis research at East New York Farms this summer as well, and am perpetually thankful for the opportunity to learn from Sarah, Rachie, Deborah, and Shella, the Assistant Farm Manager. These women are just a few of the many passionate individuals who are part of the ENYF ecosystem.
Urban agriculture exists at the intersection of many paradoxes. As nourishing as this experience has been in more ways than one (I often get to go home with a bundle of rainbow chard), it has also raised a number of questions. Urban farms can simultaneously serve as a catalyst for positive social change and a trigger for gentrification; an exploration in horizontal leadership practices and an exercise in paternalism. I feel fortunate that I haven’t encountered this kind of attitude at ENYF—it is truly a community-based organization—but I do recognize that the farm faces its own challenges, particularly, encouraging more and more people to participate in its biweekly farmer markets.
Here is Rachie’s account of her experience as part of the Urban Farms Collaborative. It’s a beautiful summation of learning about urban agriculture through active participation.
My experience this summer interning at East New York Farms has been nothing short of amazing, inspiring and slightly dehydrating. That being said, it feels oddly satisfying to leave work feeling tired, because I know I have accomplished, to put it colloquially, a ‘good day’s work’. I feel like I am able to simultaneously be more focused at my other internship because I am not spending all my work time starting at a computer screen. Before ENYF, despite being involved with various issues of food sustainability, I had never actually worked on a farm. Now being a part of actual food production has provided me with a larger appreciation for farmers and the hard labor that they endure to produce organic vegetables.
On a separate note, two weeks ago, I was buying groceries at a coop I am a part of in Bushwick, Brooklyn. As I was buying some swiss chard, I mentioned to the cashier how working at East New York Farms had increased my appreciation for chard and its beautiful stem. She looked at me blankly for a second and then asked, “do you feel safe there?” It took me a second to process what she was asking before I said, “well, yeah, I do” and awkwardly left the shop. Afterward, I kept thinking about how simultaneously frustrating and yet understandable I found the cashiers question to be. After a while, I realized how powerful it was that the farm had allowed me to feel comfortable in this neighborhood that many deem as ‘unsafe’.
Ultimately, my experience at the farm has been powerful in so many ways that I could not have even previously imagined. I am honestly sad that the summer is going to end soon but am excited to visit the farm every time I return to NYC.
The Urban Farms Collaborative is entirely possible because of the support of the COE, PCSE, and ENYF. I am especially grateful for the guidance of Deborah and Shella. I’m not certain that I am always of use on the farm (I’ve definitely messed up a few trellises), but I’m sure thankful that they let me try anyway. Ideally, Urban Farms Collaborative will continue next summer, providing students the opportunity to learn more about the joys and trials and small surprises intertwined in the act of urban farming.