As my research is wrapping up, I’d like to share the highlights of what my experience has been working with Growing Hope has been. The focus for the summer has been working with the community organization Growing Hope to develop a stronger community partnership with the course Engineers Making a Difference, and to create a new design project for students who will be taking the course this fall(2011). Building a stronger community partnership with any organization means one needs to be visible and invested in the organization’s outreach. In a course-community organization type partnership, this also means that work needs to be done towards finding where each partner can both help and benefit from the relationship. In my role, one of my main duties was to help out in any way possible, and work to find ways to enable the engineering course, Engineers Making a Difference, to apply the engineering principles they would be taught in a way that would help Growing Hope. I was able to participate in working both at the Growing Hope office in downtown Ypsilanti, and also at the farm on West Michigan Ave. The projects for the engineering course needed to help Growing Hope on the farm, and be examples to visiting community members on what innovative things can be built out of recycled materials for growing their own food. Being able to work in the hoop house and on the garden beds allowed be to see what resources are necessary (and which ones would be extremely helpful) in caring for a food garden.
I also was able to participate in many raised-bed builds, as part of a installation program that encourages community members to grow their own food by bringing the raised beds to their house and installing the beds for them. The participants also receive 10 seedlings and 10 seed packets to start their own garden. For many people who participate in this program, the resources donated to them are materials they themselves are not able to purchase, or put together. I got to hear a lot of positive feedback about the program being there, talking with community members. I also got a community perspective on what ideas they used starting out, using their own resources to create gardens before they started participating in the Growing Hope program. Many people had stories about what their parents did to grow food many years ago, and how that had an affect on their decision to grow food today.
Also a highlight of the summer, I was able to see the progress on the projects from last year that had been installed. Professor Meadows and I installed the water catchment systems during the summer, which Growing Hope was very excited about and anxious to use soon! We’ve seen rain in the past few weeks, but it is going to take a lot of rain to fill all three of the those rain barrels! Growing Hope’s farm managers have planted basil and flowers in the Recycle bin raised bed, and also Snapdragon flowers in the “Dresser” raised bed. I am proud to announce the Growing Hope loves all three projects!
Last but not least, I was able to participate in the Downtown Ypsilanti Farmer’s market (DYFM), at the Growing Hope produce tent. A lot goes into growing food, and preparing signs, prices, and the actual booth set up at market. Community members will come to talk and purchase food, homemade products or even learn more about setting up their own booth, rain or shine. In fact, on my last day of working at market, it rained on and off for at least an hour, and most of our prices were washed off the sign board and the laminated signs we created. Community members pulled out their umbrellas, huddled under booths continuing conversations, or just walked in the rain as they continued their shopping. The DYFM showed me the importance of working with the community and being invested in work that brings people together. Being at a farmer’s market isn’t like shopping at Meijer; it’s a weekly visit with friends and neighbors. You learn about the food you are eating, and become friends with the person who is growing it.
As a result of all my experiences this summer, I can definitely make the case for the importance of service-learning course in engineering. Service-learning is all about working with the community to accomplish a goal that will help the community. Many engineering students will get the technical experience from class and internships, but unless they work with a community partner, these students will many times not see how their engineering decisions and designs will go beyond their work environment and affect the community members who will purchase and use the final product, or have their daily lives affected by it. Engineering students who participate in service-learning courses will able see the bigger picture, design for their community projects based on what the community needs.
So get involved in service-learning! Take a class or join a organization who partners with a community to help them reach their goals.
Thanks for following my summer blog!
All pictures were taken by Trebecca McDonald (Me!)