Practicum Essay Blog

When I found out that we were required to do a practicum I was really concerned with how I would manage my time and if I would enjoy doing more “work” on top of my alright very dense schedule. However, I am exceedingly glad that I had this push to start working with a sustainable organization. Similarly, I am glad that I started to work with an organization versus using my practicum time with the student environmental group at Lincoln center, because of the contacts I’ve made, new agricultural and food knowledge I have acquired and the opportunity to stay with the organization after our class is complete.

Since the end of March I have been volunteering with GrowNYC greenmarkets. I started volunteering at their offices each week for a minimum of 6 hours per week and I have accumulated approximately 72 hours of volunteering hours since starting with GrowNYC. The first half of my work for GrowNYC was organizing the EBT tokens for the upcoming season. I counted and sorted roughly 5,000 $1 and $5 EBT tokens! After finishing the EBT sorting project, I helped organize parts of the office or laminate signs for the EBT sector of the greeenmarket. I found that the most rewarding part of my office volunteering with GrowNYC was learning how a sustainable company works and the ways they interacted with the farmers. Each season they surveyed the farmers and consumers to better understand their needs and to make the greenmarkets more accessible for everyone–which included adding the EBT service, allowing lower income families to purchase local food from the markets.

After a month of volunteering at the office, I got promoted to working at the union square greenmarket. And I absolutely love working at the market! The union square greenmarket is one of the busiest of the GrowNYC greenmarkets. While at the market I help to manage the GrowNYC information tent. At the tent we help customers navigate the market and what it has to offer. The market at union square is open every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of the year. Because it is local producers, the items sold at the market vary depending on what’s currently in season. The food at the market ranges from breads, vegetables, sustainably grown meats, milk, eggs and cheeses, desserts, fruits, snacks (like potato chips), gluten free items, vegan foods and prepared meals. Almost anything you could want from a supermarket can be found at the market, and if a certain food item is not currently in season, our GrowNYC tent helps consumers find an alternative that is in season. For example, the other week a lady asked me if there is any garlic being sold at the market currently, but since the farmers do not currently have garlic, we suggest consumer to buy fresh green garlic that is in season. Additionally, the GrowNYC tent has free recipe sheets every day that all use tems that can be currently found in the market. I think it is great the consumers are often try to trying new types of food because it is in season. It helps people to branch out of their normal diets and learn about the benefits of trying new things and eating locally and sustainably. It is interesting to see the elite greenmarket shopper that visit the market every week, sometimes more than once a week, to get their groceries. From shopping at the greenmarket they’re more aware, more than the average supermarket shopper, of what items are in season and how popular they will be (thus arriving the the market early in the morning). Recently I have noticed a large quantity of people asking for ramps. Ramps are a vegetable completely unknown to me until working at the market. It is such a ‘hot’ item at the market right now that farmers sell out of them by the afternoon, disappointing many of the customers desperately wanting ramps. I really enjoy seeing so many people get excited about eating locally and buying from their local farmers.

Besides food the greenmarket sells a variety of other items. Some local producers sell flowers, an entire tent is dedicated to lavender and everyday there is a composting tent that informs people of how and what to compost, and allows people to bring their compost to their tent each week. Additionally, they have recently added a sustainable information tent. I have had the opportunity to sit in during a few of the presentation at that sustainability tent. The most recent sustainability seminar tent included a day of New School environmental policy grad students  giving speeches or seminars on their very large senior projects. The speeches ranged from sustainable housing, composting, GSI mapping, soil erosion, etc. This tent has been an informative and fun addition to my job and to the market.

My work with GrowNYC connects with some of our readings in the class, especially chapter 12 Food, Soil & Pest Management and the documentary we watched: Food, Inc. Food security is an issue described in chapter 12 as people’s daily access to enough nutritious food to live active and healthy lives. The text continues by describing the key factor in families lacking food security is poverty and unequal access to food. I can connect this concept of food security with the greenmarket in regards to their use of EBT cards. Allowing low income consumers to use their EBT cards to buy food at the greenmarkets helps to combat food security by allowing more people to have access to food. However, if I was able to change the policy of the EBT cards at the greenmarkets, I would, only because if not managed correctly consumers can loose money using the EBT tokens. For example, consumers come to our information and EBT token tent to purchase as many $1 or $5 tokens as they want with their EBT cards. This issue that GrowNYC has not resolved is when a consumer pays a farmer for $3 worth of food with a $5 EBT token, the farmer may not give the consumer any change, thus the consumer loses out on $2 worth of their EBT money. This happens because the farmers are not given “change” tokens for EBT cards. When I asked why the farmers are not supplied with them, my coworkers informed me that farmers are able to get credit card “change” tokens because they can pay us for those tokens, however they cannot pay for EBT tokens (because they do not have an EBT card). Thus the only way for a consumer to receive change from a farmer when using EBT cards is if that farmer was previously paid with $1 EBT tokens. I think the way that portion of the EBT farmer/consumer change is a poor part of the program that I would change if I was able to alter the EBT policy.

Environmental issues that GrowNYC greenmarkets are helping to solve are the environmental problems associated with large industrial farming. All of the farmers at the greenmarket have local farms, that they take care of themselves and are mostly organic (even if not USDA labeled organic). These local farms strive to combat the environmental issues associated with big agriculture companies like degradation, desertification, water and air pollution, climate change (from greenhouse gas emissions), soil erosion and loss of biodiversity. The local farmers protect biodiversity much greater than the industrial farm has ever accomplished. These local farmers plant a variety of fruits and vegetables and rotate their crops depending on the season. This moves away from big industry agriculture farming that maintains on a monoculture and focuses on a polyculture of farming that promotes biodiversity and our other principles of sustainability.

Likewise, the meat sold at the greenmarket is sustainably grown meat that contributes to our principles of sustainability by not aiding climate change. Although I am a vegan, and wish the meat industry would crumble…I do support sustainably grown meat because of the amount of people in our society that will truly never stop eating meat. So, at least with sustainably grown meat, the production of the meat is not adding to greenhouse gasses as much as industrial size meat production. Additionally, these meat producers at the greenmarket do not use CAFOs seen in Food Inc. and in chapter 12 of our text. Thus, (I’d like to believe) that these animals were raised cruelty free, or at least not as cruel as life in a CAFO would be.  As mentioned in Food Inc., the health risks in eating meat and working at these CAFOs include resistance to antibiotics, diseases like E. Coli, and possibly higher chance of cancer (even though that is not yet proven). However, those health risks are much less of an issue of people when they eating meat that is grown sustainably. All of the meat farmer at the greenmarket reminds me of the pig farmer in Food Inc.– they all are happy with the size of their farm and the quality of food they produce. Like the farmer in Food Inc., it is very comforting to see farmers at the market take such pride in their work, making sure everything the produce is grown sustainably and at a high quality level for the consumers.

Another environmental issue that occurs with large industrial farming, but does not with the greenmarkets is the consumer ability to buy locally, therefore not aiding climate change. Our text and Food Inc. especially promotes buying locally from farmers at greenmarkets or through CSAs (community supported agriculture). When consumers buy their food locally they are voting with their dollar and standing up against climate change. Instead of buying their vegetables that come from all over the world at a supermarket, contributing to greenhouse gases with the shipment of produce, these consumers are cutting out the middleman and buying locally, thus sustainably.

.The GrowNYC greenmarket has been a great way for me to learn and visually see what we have learned in our text and Food Inc. If I could change policies that affect the greenmarkets in America, I would start with adding the hidden cost of goods (including food) to the cost of the item. That way people would be more driven to eat locally and sustainably because it would cost less money. Also, I would ban CAFOs completely. Not only are they harmful to animals, but they can be are harmful for health as well.  Regardless of the policies in place, I think the greenmarkets are an excellent way for people to vote with their dollar by supporting their local economy and combating greenhouse gases. My work with GrowNYC will continue throughout the summer, I will be working at the greenmarket every week, either a Saturday or Monday. I am so glad that I started this practicum and am excited to see what else I learn and how this job helps me in the future.

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Miller, G. Tyler, and Scott Spoolman. Living in the Environment: Concepts, Connections, and Solutions. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole, 2009. Print

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