By Kenzie Ballard, Education Fellow 2022
Masters in Agriculture, Food, and the Environment graduate student, Tufts University

This summer, I was given the amazing opportunity to serve as Education Fellow at Project GROWS. Originally from Louisville, KY and studying in Boston, MA, I definitely did not think I would head to Staunton, VA this summer. I remember going into my interview for this position and thinking that I would never move to Virginia! Then, Nichole Barrows, the Director of Education, interviewed me and wow, I was blown away. Nichole is passionate about Project GROWS, a complete pro at educating children and youth, and the best supervisor I could have asked for.

She encouraged me to voice my thoughts and ideas, listened to me and made adjustments based on my hopes for this summer, and challenged me to become a better educator. I am incredibly grateful for Nichole, and she is definitely the reason I moved here to work at Project GROWS this summer.

One of the greatest joys in my life is connecting with others, and this summer, I connected with youth and children about nature, farming, and animals. What an absolute dream! It was such a privilege to give children the time and space to be curious about nature and the world around them when they came to the farm. One of my favorite memories was when Joe Thompson from the Augusta Bird Club came to the farm to be a guest facilitator at camp. Groups of elementary school students sat with Joe and we just talked about birds and our observations about birds. Everyone was so engaged! Then, we walked around to the bird houses on the property and saw little baby birds in the bird houses! All the children were so curious and had so many questions. Where else do you get to provide the space for elementary school students to explore their curiosity about birds?! I feel so honored to provide this experience and many others to over 100 elementary school students at Project GROWS this summer!

In addition to working with kiddos, I was one of the lead supervisors for the Youth Leaders of Agriculture Program and it was the most rewarding experience of the summer. We farmed together, cooked together, and learned together! Twice a week, I facilitated a 1.5 hour long lesson with the Youth Leaders that involved cooking something and exploring a food system issue together. For example, for one lesson, we made pickles and then read about and discussed Fannie Lou Hamer’s activism and the Freedom Farms Cooperative. Through these lessons, I introduced food system injustices and solutions to the Youth Leaders, and I hope that they will bring what they learned from our time together into their futures as Earth citizens. Overall though, my greatest joy was connecting with each of the Youth Leaders and building lasting relationships with them. We are all in a very transitional period of time in our lives as we enter adulthood together. This bonded us and we leaned on each other through our successes and struggles this summer. It truly filled my soul.

I am so grateful for my experience at Project GROWS! I learned so much from all the staff. Special shout out to Annie, Kelsey, Clara, Brynn, Robert, Jenna, Libby, and Nichole of course! Thank you so much for supporting me throughout the entire summer and trusting me with this incredible opportunity to bring children and youths closer to the Earth that nourishes them. Love you all!