By Patricia W., 2021 Youth Leader in Ag (Summer Youth Staff), Staunton High School ’22

I’ve gone to Staunton High School, and COVID-19 has made it difficult to prepare for college. That’s why I was enthusiastic to apply when my guidance counselor, Mrs. Pleskonko, shared the opportunity to work for Project GROWS’ Summer Youth Staff. It was a big leap for me, but the supervisors have exceeded my expectations in dedication and consideration. Just the simple actions of coordinating group breaks and checking in on our self-care were both unexpected and comforting.

As expected, the farm work was oftentimes exhausting, but I’m proud of myself for having done it nonetheless. Getting through it was made easier by the surprising degree of community on the farm. Every morning, we would do a go-around entailing a mood check-in and an icebreaker question; that promptly started every day on a good note and made for a welcoming workplace. The rest of the day would usually be dedicated to farm tasks, that more often than not included weeding, but there was still a lot of focus on teamwork. We’d be in between one to three groups, each headed by a supervisor if available. Sometimes, a group of youth leaders would have to work without guidance from a supervisor if a lot was going on that day, but that was a good opportunity to practice self-assessment. That was a primary reason that reflection was so important; in our leadership activities, we even evaluated our comfort zones, so each individual could determine in what environment they could be most efficient.

I had underestimated the supervisors’ desire to teach. Learning how to grow and care for plants is useful if we want a related career or a large garden, but learning about ecology and permaculture is important regardless of what we want to do with our lives. Between this and learning leadership skills such as self-evaluation and guiding others made this job very productive. For instance, the Summer Youth Staff was invited to help guide kids in summer camp, which offered practice in a lot of practical skills. 

I’m happy to have taken a chance on Project GROWS despite my initial trepidation, and my ongoing struggle adapting. I appreciated every co-worker and supervisor, and meeting new people was always valuable. As part of the education program, we’d meet guest speakers, such as Joe Thompson from the Augusta Bird Club, who described the role of birds in the local ecosystem. Not to mention, some people we met on the farm were incredibly interesting and inspirational. It was a very unique experience to hear about the lives of people who hadn’t followed the traditional formula for success, but who were doing what they loved, and what matters in the world right now. The workers and associates of Project GROWS truly make a difference.