by Jaime Reyes ’20
As the leaves begin to change and the threat of frost approaches, I can’t help but feel nostalgic about this past summer and all the skills I was able to learn and my community involvement. I was able to experience a green(er) lifestyle over the summer, and will use the tools in the future.
This past summer, Bobbie Moore and I were given the opportunity to work for Graceland Sustainability at the Lamoni campus, under the supervision of the coolest boss ever, Jen Abraham-White. Together, we worked on numerous projects, but they can all be generalized under three categories: hoop house, community projects and beautification/restoration. Each project delivered its own set of challenges and had underlying rewards to support them.
The Hoop House is the name given to the greenhouse at the EcoPlot on Graceland’s Lamoni campus. The EcoPlot is a plot of land that covers roughly 1.5 acres. On site, a good majority of our time went to tending to the plants within the hoop house; from watering to pruning to weeding – we did it all!
In addition to the hoop, we also spent a good amount of time on our numerous trees and bushes. We had tremendous luck with our blackberry bushes this year and our Aronia berries are beginning to mature; the vineyard took off, producing grapes of the concord variety, apple and cherry trees both produced, and our hazelnut saplings have continued to grow with great gusto.
Yet one more area of the EcoPlot is the OG (Original Garden), an unsheltered garden plot with raised beds. The produce in the hoop and the OG were fairly similar: we raised tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers, onions, ground cherry, beans, squash, and multiple herbs and spices.
After reflecting on my time working at the hoop, two things reign true: farming is hard work, and food you produce on your own tastes a thousand times better than store bought.
For some background on me, my late grandfather was a hog farmer born during the depression, so gardening was more than a way of life — but a necessity to refrain from famine. I spent most of my adolescent summers with him, so he was able to teach me a thing or two, and I’d say I have somewhat of a green thumb — at the very least, a blue with a green hue.
Continuing-on with his tradition, my mom began a vegetable garden that I had the “privilege” to help start and work on before I moved out. In all of these experiences, one of the biggest lessons I will take with me is that hard work pays off. You put so much time, money and effort into these seeds, hoping they’ll grow into big plants one day. So, when the day finally comes that they produce fruit, it’s just that much sweeter, juicier, flavorful and every sensation in between.
In addition to working at the Hoop, Bobbie and I were able to interact with the community in multiple facets. One project we worked on was the building and installation of a community garden at the Lamoni community center. Sparked by the propositional efforts of Jen Abraham-White, who applied and received a grant, we had a crew of about five highly-motivated individuals who worked tirelessly for weeks to fulfill Jen’s vision. Together, we constructed 16 raised garden beds that, in turn, will be rented, for a low annual fee, to people in Lamoni and surrounding communities who don’t necessarily have access to fresh produce.
For those who were unable to claim a bed before they were all rented, the next best option is to shop from the Lamoni Farmer’s Market. Once a week, Bobbie and I would collect produce and setup shop out front of the Pizza Hut. One problem we saw in this is that after we picked the produce, it started the countdown of freshness and needed to be used.
While one idea could be to pick less, Jen had a brilliant idea: in addition (sometimes in place of) to the weekly farmers market, we sold produce directly from the hoop house — sort of a drive thru, if you will. This enabled customers to see where their food was coming from, granted them the freshest produce possible and saved us the headache of having picked too much food.
Overall, these community projects were important to me because they allowed me to gain perspective and immerse myself in such a great community. The fellowship and teamwork demonstrated while we built the garden beds helped to create everlasting friendships. It also, in general, was great to imagine and then see the impact our work provided to this community and the principle idea of volunteering and helping others.
It was a great experience to help a community that he held so near and dear to his heart, and that I now, myself, call family. Helping others is such an important aspect that has been pounded into my life, it’s crazy to think of something different — because, as they say, it takes a village.
While the above projects were great, one of my favorite experiences this summer was working on the beautification and restoration of historic Lamoni. One such project was headed by Karen Gergely, (the coolest art professor in the entire history of art professors.)