Lauren Vargo has a strong interest in environmental science and sustainable agriculture. So when she heard about an internship opportunity with Green Corps, a program run by the Cleveland Botanical Garden that turns vacant city lots into urban farms, she jumped at the chance. The internship was one of dozens sponsored this summer by the college’s Center for Entrepreneurship.
Green Corps hires Cleveland teens to work 16 to 20 hours a week: planting, weeding, pruning, harvesting, and finally selling the produce at local farmers markets. They learn to work together and interact with the public. They also complete a curriculum focused on agriculture and environmental science.
“With five different farms and about 12 students working at each farm throughout the summer,” Vargo wrote in a blog post, “over 60 teens from Cleveland are making money and learning about plant biology, soil composition, and the importance of small scale farming.”
Working with the site manager for the Slavic Village learning farm, Vargo learned plenty herself, from installing irrigation systems to helping run the onsite famers market every Wednesday.
“Making money is less the point than helping supply people in these urban areas with fresh produce,” notes Vargo, a geology major and lacrosse player from nearby Kirtland, Ohio. She describes the neighborhoods around the Green Corps garden sites as “food deserts, areas filled with gas stations and convenience stores where fresh, healthy food is difficult to get.”
"The hands-on aspect of urban gardening teaches aspects of sustainability that can't be fully absorbed if they are taught via lecture or other classroom means," said Matt Mariola, visiting assistant professor of environmental studies. "Lauren's passion for environmental issues stems from something deep inside. It's not merely an intellectual interest for her, but something she feels at a deep level."
“I’m proud to have helped Green Corps benefit so many people this summer,” Vargo wrote in another blog post. “[I’ve] learned so much about everything from farming to farmers markets to teaching inner-city teens, skills I hope to utilize the rest of my life.”
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