After graduation, many of my friends either continued with their schooling, opted for low-paying jobs from government programs (AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps), or received fellowships to study around the world. My friends who’ve completed their time with AmeriCorps have had mixed experiences–the most common complaint I’ve heard is that organizations don’t know how to utilize volunteers well.
I’ve also had friends that have loved their placements. One friend, Jessie Barber, has had an especially perfect AmeriCorps placement with Heartbeet lifesharing community in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. As a Sociology Major with a minor in Environmental Studies at UNC, Jessie took many classes from the Environmental Studies curriculum. We met Sophomore year living on the Sustainability Hall at UNC and lived together (or very nearby) in various cheap housing options throughout the rest of our college careers. On the side, Jessie danced in a modern dance company at UNC, studied Spanish in Seville, and completed an environmental capstone at the Albemarle Ecological Field Site in Manteo, NC (please see a previous post to learn more about the environmental capstone process at UNC).
Now, a year (and a few months) after graduation, Jessie happens to be living and working about ten minutes down the road from my girlfriend’s family’s summer vacation spot in Vermont (and people really don’t just end up there by mistake). This summer I spent some lovely time with Jessie at Heartbeet–we hiked up Mount Mansfield (Vermont’s highest peak) and had some wonderful dinners with her new community. It’s strange visiting someone that you used to live so close to, but also inspiring to see that her life and community at Heartbeet make complete sense for her life.
Heartbeet is a community “that includes adults with developmental disabilities and interweaves the social and agricultural realms for the healing and renewing of our society and the earth. Community members live and work together, in beautiful extended family households, forming a mutually supportive environment that enables each individual to discover and develop his or her unique abilities and potential.”
From what I observed during my few visits, Heartbeet has an incredible power to bond people of all backgrounds through farming and creating an environment where everyone is valued for who they are. No matter what one’s personal farming ability, there’s a place on the farm for everyone–from felting during the snowy winter months to managing the livestock to weeding in the garden or even setting the table for the meals (a lot of the food for the meals comes from Heartbeet’s own farm).
At Hearbeet, Jessie has worked to increase her knowledge of biodynamic farming principles as well as to tend the community’s one-acre garden. Jessie “absolutely love(s) being in the garden–feeling the soil and thinking about how complex it is–planting tiny seeds and watching them develop into beautiful plants and then into the food that we eat.” She’s just started taking classes at the Pfieffer Center in Upstate New York on the weekends, as part of a one-year part-time training in Practical Biodynamics. One of the founders of Heartbeet, Jonathan Gilbert, is her mentor in the garden. He’s been farming for the past 15 years and thus has extensive knowledge on biodynamic agriculture practices. Along with his help, Jessie plans to extend the garden to another acre.
Last night, Jessie had chicken and vegetable soup “chickens raised here, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, squash, onions, garlic, and parsley all fresh from the gardens!” along with homemade biscuits (not exactly from the farm). Connecting her work to the bigger picture, Jessie says, “With the current state of our predominate food systems, we need a significant change. This feels like one step in the right direction.”
Laura Stephenson is a recent environmental science graduate from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, focusing in environmental and community health. She is currently studying Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala. Laura writes the “After” Life of an Environmental Studies Student series, telling stories of the activities and endeavors of environmental science and studies students after graduation.