An Urban Roots Internship: Quay’s Experience
Yesterday, I dropped by the Urban Roots farm, off 183 in East Austin, to interview Shaquashia (known to me as Quay) about her experience so far in the Urban Roots program. I’ve known Quay since late 2008, when I met her through Ilyse, her “Big Sis” in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas program.
I love the Urban Roots program, having first visited the farm in 2008 on an Austin Urban Farm bicycle tour, interviewed co-founder Max Elliott on KGSR in 2009, attended a farm lunch in 2010, and a fundraising happy hour last month.
Quay told me that she applied to be an Urban Roots farm intern last fall, and was invited to interview for the job in late 2011. In addition to the written application, she participated in a group interview as well as a one-on-one interview. She was accepted, and the first day of the program this year was in February. There are 30 interns total, including some returning from last year. She told me there are also six staff, including director of operations Leigh Gaymon-Jones, who is Quay’s supervisor, and farm manager Marysol Valle, both of whom were on the farm yesterday when I visited.
Elliott wasn’t on the farm, but for good reason, he was getting his master’s degree from the University of Texas that day. I believe in social work? Congratulations, Max!
Quay showed me around the farm during a short break. She told me that since February, she has been working two days a week, once on either Tuesday or Thursday after school from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., and once on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. They are paid $12 for their short day and $40 for the long days, plus they can take home fresh vegetables and fruit from the farm and the program includes personal development programs, field trips, and other fun and/or educational activities. The teens are picked up and dropped off from their schools by the program staff. Quay told me that most of the farm interns come from LBJ, Reagan, East Side, and McAllen High Schools.
When I spoke with Leigh, she told me that while many of the kids come from at-risk neighborhoods, there is a mix of kids from all socio-economic backgrounds who participate in the program.
The kids who are in their second year of the program take supervisory roles on the work crews, and wear blue Urban Roots shirts to work. The first year interns wear brown shirts. However, on Community Volunteer Saturdays, all the interns get the opportunity to show their potential by leading a group of volunteers in their daily work.
When it’s a regular Saturday, the interns are on their own and they split up into three work crews — two on the farm and one at the market. Quay told me they had some workshops to get ready for the market day. They practiced adding up the total owed for produce in their head, and making change on the spot. I remember from my time as a waitress that figuring out change is a weak area for me, so it’s great that they have a chance to work on that skill.
Quay told me her least favorite task is thinning, when they pull some plants up to give the healthier plants around them more light. She said it’s her least favorite because she has a hard time figuring out which should be pulled and which should stay. Her most favorite task is harvesting. They started planting at the end of February and everything was in the ground as of a week or two ago. While I was there today, they were harvesting onions and potatoes.
The tomatoes, which were still green, were planted in rows next to the basil, which Quay told me keeps the pests away and lets the tomatoes flourish. I thought that was such an interesting fact that they work together that way in nature, and they taste so good together when they are harvested.
Each week, the staff introduces a “Veggie of the Week,” and each intern can bring home that vegetable from the farm and cook a recipe. If they bring back what they cooked for everyone to taste, they get points. It doesn’t even matter if what they make is the best dish, they get points for participation. After many weeks in a row of racking up points, the winner will get some kind of prize. Quay wasn’t sure what the prize would be since it was supposed to be announced this weekend, but maybe someone will leave a comment to let us know.
On pay day, the group comes together for a session called “Real Talk,” where the leaders share both the things they are doing well, along with the things they have to work on. Quay told me that this openness doesn’t make her uncomfortable, because it’s done in a constructive way, and because she feels like she already knows what her strengths and weaknesses are by the time “Real Talk” takes place.
Once school is out for the year, the hours that the Urban Roots interns work increases to Wednesday through Saturday from 8 or 9 in the morning to 4:30 p.m. in the afternoon. They work if it’s one hundred degrees, they work if it’s raining, the only time they don’t work is if there is lightning.
It’s not all work and no play though — Quay said there are breaks for water, lunch, and even games, and that the games are fun, educational, and different than any she has played before. I asked her about the bowling trip they had planned for later that day, and she told me there will be even more field trips to look forward to in the summer — including many to places where the kids can swim and cool off.
Quay showed me the schedule and a binder she keeps to track her personal progress in the program. In the binder she listed her goals, fears, strengths, and weaknesses. The interns also participate in free writing time and this gets put in the journal too, along with a food diary on occasion.
The program will end on July 14, and Quay hopes to apply to participate in it again next year. She said that everyone who wants to come back will apply again, and will interview for one of the few spots to be a second-year intern.
Before I left, I asked Quay if there was anything else she wanted to tell me. She told me that one of her favorite things about the Urban Roots program so far is the training in public speaking they have provided. She told me she has learned about appropriate eye contact, and to speak loudly so that she will be heard.
She said, “Urban Roots Rocks!”
More Information:Austin Urban Farm, BBBS, Big Brothers Big Sisters, ilyse, Max Elliott, Quay, urban roots, volunteer