As I was sitting on my knees, carefully digging out weeds at the Dirt Works Incubator Farm, I almost forgot where I was. It's funny how that happens sometimes. I was so focused on what I was doing that I blanked and forgot about reality.
It was my day to work at Gina Perez's Fiddle Farm, something I had been looking forward to all year and had coordinated through the Slow Food Youth Community Action Club (YCAC), a group I helped co-found as a student at Ashley Hall. We wanted to connect volunteers with local farmers so they could experience a day in the life of a farmer. And I couldn't wait for it to happen.
We learned firsthand what it felt like to be a farmer that day. While weeding, I tried to soak up the experience. Taking in my surroundings, I smelled and felt the dampness in the soil and air. I pulled weeds out of the dirt by their roots using a sickle, a crescent-shaped tool with a curved blade that made the task easy. As I worked, I shuffled on my knees down the row of crops, taking out each and every green invader. It seems tedious, but like most farm chores, I found it soothing. I made sure that I didn't miss a single one. I have vivid images from that day: the striking contrast between the bone-white roots of the weeds and the pitch-black soil; the satisfaction of snatching up weeds; the damp, black soil running through my hands; the neutralized weeds being tossed into a pile.
Halfway through the row, I sat up on my knees to take a breath. Looking up at the vast, white, overcast sky, I realized that it had been drizzling tiny raindrops for a while, but the little bit of rain and cold weather hadn't stopped anyone from working. Around the farm scattered figures stood or knelt, doing some sort of work. Like actors in a silent film, they were in motion: shoveling dirt, dumping wheelbarrows, and weeding rows of crops, the only sound the pitter-patter of falling raindrops on my head and back.
My journey to the farm started back in ninth grade on a sunny afternoon when many students from local high schools (including myself) gathered at a friend's house to discuss creating a high school chapter of Slow Food. Slow Food is a movement that started in Italy as a way to counter the spread of fast food chains and has since grown into an international organization that promotes healthy eating through the sustainable use of resources.
Maela Singh is the current YCAC president and will graduate this year from Ashley Hall. She says the benefits of working with Slow Food are substantial for students. "We provide learning opportunities with guest chefs, farm tours, and introductions into the local food community. We've really made an impact not only in our community, but also on a national and a personal level. YCAC has taught us the importance of being responsible, communicating on a professional level, and following through with goals and projects that we set out to do."
The group started with a Crisis Ministries Project, where we raised money for, planned, and prepared an organic, local meal to serve to the guests of the local shelter for homeless. We also made connections with the community, getting sponsors from all around Charleston to support the club and promote our mission. We screened movies such as the The Vanishing of the Bee and Dirt, both of which embody the Slow Food message. We sold local honey and set up information booths in stores like Whole Foods.
Sophomore year, we took on the Truck Farm project, borrowing a pickup truck, partnering with Whole Foods, and planting a traveling garden in the bed of the pickup to go around to schools and teach children about healthy eating. We also made a movie about the project.
Junior year, the club really stepped up its game. We created a traveling trailer garden to take to James Simons Elementary for a semester class on plant growth and healthy eating. We created partnerships with WINGS for Kids and Whole Foods in order to receive adequate funding and support for this project. We planned the project by splitting up into teams: Curriculum, Gardening, Engineering, and Graphic Design.
Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned came that day on the farm. While sitting on my knees in the dirt, I had the biggest a-ha moment of my life. I felt the vastness of the world and that I was just a small part of it. I realized that I loved farm work. I enjoyed watching my peers getting their hands dirty outside the usual classroom setting. I hope youth involvement in local agriculture continues to grow and I can envision the future of Lowcountry agriculture as an open garden where aspiring farmers can establish their roots.