Admittedly, January is not the ideal month for an internship at an organization focused on sustainable community agriculture. Especially in Wisconsin. Arriving at the Hasbrouck´s home on January 3rd (Fitchburg Fields is so small that it doesn´t have an actual office), I wasn´t sure what I would be doing for the next three weeks. Nor could I have anticipated the variety of tasks Phyllis, the director, would assign me. It was certainly an exciting month!
Fitchburg Fields is a grassroots, non-profit , for-impact organization based in Fitchburg, Wisconsin, near the capital, Madison. The idea for the garden germinated when farmland near the Hasbrouck residence was zoned for building condos. In attempt to prevent the development, Phyllis and a few others decided to find a better use for the land, and presented their idea about a community farm to the legislature. With the land, they would not only grow organic crops, but also teach other people about sustainable agriculture. (The words “organic” and “sustainable” are necessarily not interchangeable, but Fitchburg Fields uses practices that are both organic and sustainable, which is how it should work.) They were unfortunately unsuccessful with their proposal; the land was sold to the developer, but remains undeveloped as details are worked out.
The organizers of Fitchburg Fields did not give up, though. They are continuing on with their plan and currently have a garden on borrowed land, where they teach others about sustainable gardening and grow produce to donate to local food pantries. Additionally, Fitchburg Fields hosts workshops on an array of gardening and farming topics such as constructing hoop houses, composting, drying fruit and vegetables, grafting fruit trees, and making jam. The organization´s ultimate goal is to buy the land back from developers and use the 250 acres to farm and teach.
Because it was winter, I could not work in the garden itself, but this gave me the opportunity to learn other new things, such as how a small (but growing) non-governmental organization is run and managed. Part of my time was spent working on the computer, where I became familiar with several databases, Mad Mimi, which is a newsletter publisher, and other useful programs for sending emails and uploading pictures. If you can believe it, organization (in both on online databases as well as with actual files) is key to running an organization. I only hope the files I helped put in order will stay so neat. I also learned about two key components to a successful organization: good government relations, and publicity. Government relations entails a lot of reading about rules, and publicity is created not only via email, but also with published newsletters and phone calls. I have a better grasp of both after interning as well.
Knowing one´s members and volunteers is another important aspect of an organization like Fitchburg Fields. The wonderful thing about Fitchburg Fields is that it is small enough to get to know one another. It was great to be around people with similar mindsets regarding the environment and the need for sustainable, organic agriculture. Although I was already familiar with the key concepts of sustainable agriculture, I learned even more about this topic, especially about how farming links to several larger environmental problems like climate change and depletion of natural resources.
The other part of my internship involved a hodge-podge of activities, including writing vocabulary cards for a series of new workshops about preserving food taught in Spanish, helping prepare dishes for a Fitchburg Fields potluck, and sewing aprons with cloth donated by a Fitchburg Fields member, and cleaning and preparing garden supplies for the spring. Having such a variety of work was fun, and I picked up some new sewing and cooking skills. It was also a good exercise in being adaptable and creative.
Interning for Fitchburg Fields was an excellent lesson in what it takes to build and manage an organization, and I am glad that I had this occasion to learn new skills that will be helpful in the future. Of course I recognize that I have only touched the surface of what it takes to form and run an efficient organization, but because of this internship, I have a good foundation of that knowledge.