Lilly Fellowship Enables Wooster Student to Crystalize Career Options
Rising senior Erika Takeo energized by summer internship on organic farm in Portland, Ore.
WOOSTER, Ohio — As an intern with an organic agriculture program in the Forest Grove area of Metropolitan Portland (Ore.), Erika Takeo spent most of the summer getting her hands dirty — both literally and figuratively.
A rising senior with a self-designed global sustainability major at The College of Wooster, Takeo worked with Adelante Mujeres, an organization whose mission is to educate and empower low-income Latina women and their families. The internship was made possible by a fellowship from Wooster’s Lilly Project for the Exploration of Vocation.
The experience not only sparked Takeo’s inquisitive nature, but it also nourished her soul. “I think the most rewarding part for me was feeling valued,” she Takeo, who first volunteered with the group after graduating high school three years ago. “This was the first summer where I really felt like I at least somewhat knew what I was doing on the projects that I was given. I liked being able to contribute and at the same time learn a lot of new skills and information. I liked being outside working on issues of agriculture and food that are so important to me.”
Takeo labored five days a week, splitting her time among three main programs: (1) the Forest Grove Farmer’s Market, where she helped with set-up and information dissemination; (2) La Esperanza Farm, the organization’s certified organic farm, where she helped with irrigating, weeding, planting, transplanting, directing volunteers, and construction of a produce washing station on the farm’s demonstration plot; and (3) La Esperanza Distributor, Adelante Mujeres’ new social venture, where she helped to develop a budget and create a guide for harvest and post-harvest handling of all crops.
“Once their new organic farm started up I knew I wanted to get involved more,” she said. “I also wanted to do social justice work close to home."
Takeo started working with the Lilly program last fall, when she provided a basic overview of her vision, a proposed budget, and several essays about why she was interested in the Adelante Mujeres project.
During the two previous summers, Takeo was involved in other internships set up through Wooster, including urban gardening in Cleveland and Global Social Entrepreneurship in India. These prepared her to set up her own proposal, and equipped her with the skills to follow through. “There is a lot of flexibility…to design your own internship and take responsibility for what you want to do with your summer,” she said about her decision to apply for a Lilly Fellowship, something she had been considering since she arrived as a transfer student in 2010.
One of the biggest challenges Takeo faced was a “lack of cultural experience with the Latino population,” which made communication difficult on more than just a language level. “Culture goes much deeper than language, and it is something you can only really learn about from experience,” she said. “I realized how important it is for me to continue having cross-cultural training. On a broader level, this summer helped me learn a lot more about hunger and poverty in the United States.”
The internship was an important component of Takeo’s major, which focuses on the connections between social and environmental injustices. She witnessed first-hand injustices in the form of uneducated views on farming, food, and health; the difficulties that immigrants have in establishing a business; the struggles that farmers face in feeding others and themselves; and the biases of our country’s economic and political system when it comes to food and the underprivileged.
Not only was the experience educational, it was also personal. Takeo is now considering a certificate program in urban farming or organic agriculture after graduation. The Peace Corp is also on her radar as a possible post-graduation opportunity.
- Story by Libby Fackler ‘13