I recently had the opportunity to talk with our 2016 Community Gardening Leadership Training Program apprentice, Anna Strick. Anna has been a key member of our community since arriving this spring, and having her living and working on the land has enriched all of our experiences here at the Whidbey Institute. Personally, I’ve been especially touched by her warmth and friendliness, and the welcome that she shows to children in the Westgarden. My own daughters feel capable, wanted, and valued as members of the Westgarden volunteer team in part because of Anna’s mentorship. Here’s our conversation. —Marnie Jackson
Can you tell me about your background?
I moved here from North Carolina. The last few years I’ve been farming in the Southeast, and moving around to gain different farm skills. I came here to explore working with kids in the farm setting and having creative control to learn to manage my own space.
I spent one winter on a large-scale farm with a focus on brassicas, and the portion of the company where I was working was organic. I’ve also balanced farm work with other volunteer opportunities on farms, seeking breadth of knowledge. I’ve worked in a variety of settings, from year round flower and vegetable production to very diverse, integrated animal and perennial models, and from small scale to large scale organic farms. I’ve learned that each farm has its own style and there’s no one right way.
What led you to farming?
I had an opportunity in college to help build and manage a garden space. It was something I was excited about. I was happy in that role and happy to welcome other people into the space. Later, when I was thinking about leaving a different job, I knew that farming was the one thing that would really make me happy. My interest may have started even earlier, though. I remember choosing organic cotton production as a research topic in the 9th grade. It may have been the first time I was really excited to write a paper.
How does it feel to be on Whidbey Island?
I feel really comfortable expressing myself as I am in this culture. Things I’ve been pursuing and interested in for years, quietly, are valued by this community—things like fiber crafts, alternative transportation, biking, growing and preserving food, and volunteerism. The lifestyle feels great, and I feel like I can both support people and be supported by people in this community.
Can you describe your experience as a Community Gardening Leadership Training Intern?
In this program, I’ve been able not only to explore my two goals of working with kids and managing my own space, but also to have a peer community and several mentors. It’s more than just an individual pursuit, and I’m surrounded by people supporting and guiding.
I’ve been learning a lot about this climate in particular. Although I’ve done a lot of farming, the Pacific Northwest is very different and a garden here has its own set of needs.
I’ve been growing lots of new fruits, like cherries and raspberries. Later it will be plums, apples, and pears. It was too hot, humid, and pest-prone for those in the South.
What do you anticipate doing next?
I would like to stay another year, and I’m tired of moving. I appreciate the community, but I also thrive in heat! I haven’t quite determined what’s next.
I definitely want to have young people in my life. I’ve always done childcare, and I feel like I need that relationship. It’s part of being a human. We all need adults in our lives and I need a lot of kid time! I really like being a mentor figure because I’m a really empathic person, so I like to show caring and support for people and kids are a population that is very responsive to that. I feed off their creativity and energy. I get as much from them as they get from me.
I’ve worked with a Waldorf class here, and at the public elementary school. I just had a really good interaction this morning with one of the kids at the elementary school. I encouraged her to come to the work day, so she came with her brother and her mom. She just kept saying how much she adored me and was glad I was there. It was cool to hear a kid to share how much she liked me as a friend.
How did you wind up being assigned to the Whidbey Institute Westgarden once you were selected as an intern in the program?
I deferred to the coordinators for best fit regarding which garden, and this one was the one where I would have autonomy over the growing space and a class to instruct. It aligned well with my goals. Good Cheer is more production oriented, which is closer to experiences I’ve already had in the South.The school garden interns spend nearly every day, all day with kids and I wasn’t sure I was ready to take that big leap. I wanted to dip my toe in.
What are your thoughts on the Westgarden?
This is the smallest space I’ve worked in. The space isn’t meant to be just a productive space. There are some physical challenges to efficiency, such as the inability to scale up to larger plantings, but it’s a manageable work space for two of us and a small volunteer group. It’s a good garden to engage with people in. We do lots of small projects, and it’s a comfortable space for small work groups.
Do you feel like you’re getting to know the institute community and the work of our organization overall?
Sometimes if staff or program visitors are here and linger on the land, I have an opportunity to talk to them. I think we’re fostering a space and encouraging dialogue for the community to explore our understanding and our relationship to justices: environmental, social, and economic. Primarily, we host people: we’re creating a space, saying, “let’s do this, let’s get comfortable in this work. Let’s have these conversations.” The garden is one of many spaces in which we can do that.
What does a community garden mean to you?
I think that community garden spaces, should be comfortable for everyone to explore what excites them about gardens, to challenge themselves to learn, and to have more meaningful relationships with people and plants. A community garden should be a supportive environment—that’s a given. It should be a place to work, learn, and grow together.