by Fiona McGhee, Spring 2021 Youth Leader in Agriculture

If you had told me a year ago that volunteering on a farm at the end of a global pandemic would be my favorite activity of the week, I would have given you a quizzical look and walked away. Watching things grow while the world around you seems to be crumbling is a very grounding experience. It reminds you that nothing can stop the world from growing green. The past year has been very harsh on our community and ourselves as individuals, but Project GROWS has reminded me throughout my duration on the farm that the world is full of things that sprout and bloom and grow even when the weather is too hot, too damp, too cold, too windy, or otherwise just too hard. Plants show us that despite hardship, we carry on, not because we’re meant to struggle but because we’re going to get older and stronger no matter what conditions we live in, so we might as well make the most of them. While working at Project GROWS, I’ve not only learned how to plant crops and pull weeds—I’ve learned how to be kinder to myself and rediscovered the blissful feeling of being a kid playing in the dirt.

I’ve always loved nature. Every day growing up, I would bound into the woods behind my house after school and play amongst the trees. My mom kept an impressive garden when I was younger, and I was always eager to grab a spade and help her out. Plants have always held a kind of magic to me—one day, you put a seed in the ground, and a week later the dirt looks green instead of brown. Plants remind us that there’s a simple magic in living, and I’ve always been drawn to that simplicity. When I had the opportunity to work with Project GROWS as a senior at my high school, I was ecstatic and slightly intimidated. I’ve worked with plants in the past, from gardening to forestry and agricultural experiments, but I’ve never considered myself strong or patient enough to be a farmer. When I walked into the greenhouse at Project GROWS at the end of winter, surrounded by snow and mud, my fears were assuaged. Project GROWS is a community of individuals eager to be involved in the work they do and help each other to do it well. It places an emphasis on not just the crops that are grown on the farm, but the people that are doing the growing as well.

At Project GROWS, I was involved in a variety of projects during my time volunteering, from pulling up old tarps at the end of winter to building a seeding setup for the greenhouse, weeding garden beds, seeding plants, and transplanting seedlings into the ground. On top of the physical skills I learned at Project GROWS, I also learned how to be a better leader and collaborator. Project GROWS taught me invaluable lessons about permaculture, crop rotations, and how to be confident in the work that I do. I firmly believe that Project GROWS is a place not just where plants grow but where people grow too.

Before I volunteered at Project GROWS, I intended to major in environmental science at Smith College with a concentration in lab and field studies. Now, my interest in environmental science is tenfold—but I’m no longer afraid to be involved in the growing I’ve always loved from afar. I plan to take many classes in sustainable agriculture and spend my future with my hands in the dirt. I have Project GROWS to thank for that.