Today, we would like to thank Project GROWS’ summer Food Access Intern Rachel Smith. Rachel is a recent graduate from Blue Ridge Community College, and in the fall, she will be starting a new journey at Virginia Tech studying Dietetics! While we will truly miss her, we are excited to see where the future will take her! Rachel has always been an overflowing source of kindness and positivity for Project GROWS and other members of the community, and we are sure that she will continue to make the world a better place wherever she goes. Reflecting on her time at Project GROWS, Rachel had the following reflections:

When I first heard about Project GROWS, I immediately went to their website to check them out. I grew up in the Augusta County area and attended Stuarts Draft High School, so I was honestly a little shocked I had never heard of them before. Much to my delight though, I saw that they were taking interns for the summer of 2020. Although the internship I had originally applied for did not work out because of COVID-19, my supervisor, Nichole Barrows, was able to craft the food access internship for me: the most rewarding, personal, and eye-opening experience I have ever had.

Nichole got me connected with Amanda Warren, the Director of School Nutrition at Staunton City Schools. This was so perfect because not only did I get to help the Staunton community by assisting with summer meal preparations and curbside-pickups, but I got to work under a woman who sincerely cares about the health of her community. Amanda is a wonderful and warm leader who has done more than what is required of her in her position; she has brought local food production into school cafeterias, which is a necessary step towards a more wholesome, healthy, and meaningful diet for adolescents. Much like Amanda using her position to authorize more change in the school system, I want to use my status as a Registered Dietician, which is what I will be attending Virginia Tech this fall to study, to help end food apartheid in this country.

Food apartheid was not something I was aware of before working with Project GROWS. Throughout my internship, I learned about how its deep and vicious roots have severely impacted the livelihood and vitality of so many communities across this country. GROWS sincerely cares about this issue, which made my experience with them even more relevant. One aspect of my internship involved helping out at the North Augusta Farmers market, where I got to learn about and have hands-on experience with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. This, along with seeing all the amazing products from local vendors, was another truly eye-opening experience.

Another way I got to work with Project GROWS was on the farm. This was my favorite thing to do with Project GROWS because I have an affinity for plants, especially ones that yield tasty crops like the ones at the GROWS farm do. Coming into this internship, I did have previous experience working with plants. In high school, I attended Valley Career and Technical Center, where I studied greenhouse management. However, working on the farm, I was able to experience the other side of plant production, which is on the farm. I harvested, prepped beds, weighed and rinsed produce, deweeded, and, most importantly, got to meet and work with some of the amazing GROWS team. I’ve said this a million times, but I’m going to say it again: the farm is like something straight out of a fairy tale. 

My time with Project GROWS has really shifted my career path towards what I think is a more meaningful endeavor. Every single team member at GROWS is so passionate about their work and each of them has inspired me in a new way. I will always be grateful to have been able to work with such an outstanding and down-to-earth organization.”