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Spring to Action Break for Change

Posted by struscott | May 2, 2010

The 2010 Spring to Action Brak for Change crew. Brandi Ward, Vancouver campus, biology; Max St. Brown, economics graduate student; Nick Montanari, CCE Project Leader, kinesiology; Dave Tharp, trip leader; Ian Chittle, trip leader, counseling psychology doctoral student; Michael Schwartz, trip leader, history graduate student; Ty Strohmaier, CCE intern, psychology; Denise Chin, international student from Malaysia, sociology; Vera Zhong, international student from China, environmental engineering; Kyle Tynan, electrical engineering; Lauren Beebe, international business; Joe Cuanan, environmental and resource economics and management/political science; Vanessa Balch, human development; Holly Diccicco, philosophy; Eric Davidson, chemistry; Abbas Biabani, visiting professor of agronomy from Iran; Phillip Ho, biology; Evan Moriwaki, Vancouver campus, environmental science; Melissa Boles, Vancouver campus, English
The 2010 Spring to Action Brak for Change crew: Brandi Ward, Vancouver campus, biology; Max St. Brown, economics graduate student; Nick Montanari, CCE Project Leader, kinesiology; Dave Tharp, trip leader; Ian Chittle, trip leader, counseling psychology doctoral student; Michael Schwartz, trip leader, history graduate student; Ty Strohmaier, CCE intern, psychology; Denise Chin, international student from Malaysia, sociology; Vera Zhong, international student from China, environmental engineering; Kyle Tynan, electrical engineering; Lauren Beebe, international business; Joe Cuanan, environmental and resource economics and management/political science; Vanessa Balch, human development; Holly Diccicco, philosophy; Eric Davidson, chemistry; Abbas Biabani, visiting professor of agronomy from Iran; Phillip Ho, biology; Evan Moriwaki, Vancouver campus, environmental science; Melissa Boles, Vancouver campus, English

Since 2008, the Center for Civic Engagement and the Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources have teamed up to journey across the state of Washington with roughly 20 students for the annual Spring to Action Break for Change trip. Students choose to spend five days of their vacation to do service projects with various sustainable farms and food banks, and in return they receive an enriching experience (at no charge to the student) full of “hands-on” learning and relationship building that sparks friendship and future civic action.

This year’s team consisted of a diverse group of 19 students with a wide array of academic majors and personal backgrounds. Academic majors ranged from environmental engineering to chemistry and kinesiology to elementary education, among many others. Participants had various levels of prior experience with agriculture and community service. In addition, students came from various locations before their academic studies at WSU, such as California, Iran, China and Malaysia. Students with such diverse backgrounds, experience, and knowledge greatly enriched the trip by providing unique perspective and insight into the service provided.

Eric, Nick, and Lauren installing shelves at Hope Center in Moscow, Idaho.
Eric, Nick, and Lauren installing shelves at Hope Center in Moscow, Idaho.

The trip began with a project at the Hope Center Thrift Store and Food Bank in Moscow, Idaho. It was a fabulous project to kick-start the trip. The various tasks seemed impossible to conquer, yet everyone showed immediate enthusiasm and hard work. We jumped right in and cleared and organized much needed space and set up extensive shelving for food and items to be effectively displayed. After the afternoon’s work, we loaded the group into 3 vans and drove across the state to Puyallup, Washington. We spent the night in the Puyallup Grange hall. We were blessed throughout the trip by these kinds of various food and shelter discounts and donations that made the trip financially possible.

The next day’s work was at Little

Planting garlic at Little Eorthe Farm in Puyallup.
Planting garlic at Little Eorthe Farm in Puyallup.

Eorthe Farm, where we planted hundreds of potatoes and garlic that will eventually be harvested and donated to food banks. At Little Eorthe, students also learned how to take soil samples and proceeded to take hundreds of samples that will be used to study the seeds of weeds in order to control weeds on organic farms in the area. We realized that the effects of our work up to this point would be felt by sustainable farmers and those who use the food banks for a long time after our day’s work ended.

Soil sampling of weeds seed for organic farming research at Little Eorthe Farm, Puyallup
Soil sampling of weeds seed for organic farming research at Little Eorthe Farm, Puyallup.

After another night’s sleep on the floor of a Grange in Chimacum, we helped John Bellow at Spring Rain Farm and Orchard plant over 1,000 trees along Chimacum Creek. The trees will help restore the natural habitat for salmon that spawn in the creek. Many of us ended the day with mud on our faces and with wet clothes. Bellow was a gracious host. He shared his experiences in developing sustainable agriculture programs in Iraq and Pakistan. He also kindly cooked and provided us with a delicious breakfast and lunch that day, which was prepared with organic and sustainably grown ingredients right off his farm. The homemade chili, organic free-range hard-boiled eggs, and fresh baked muffins with home-grown berries were delicious. The work was long and difficult and seemed to never end, but team-work kept morale high and we all felt a lot of gratitude for the experience.

Happy to plant 1,000 trees! Spring Rain Farm and Orchard, Chimacum, Wash.
Happy to plant 1,000 trees! Spring Rain Farm and Orchard, Chimacum, Wash.

After three full days of work and two night’s sleeping on the floor in grange halls, we were all very happy to travel to a hotel in Everett to take showers and sleep in beds. Waking up refreshed and much less smelly, we travelled on over to 21 Acres Farm. There, we cleared out thorny blackberry bushes in order to clear space for other crops. In addition, we trimmed strawberry plants to yield more production and leveled planter beds that will be used by senior citizens in the community. Being a site that Spring to Action Break for Change has worked on in previous years, it was cool to see the results of projects from last year, such as a WSU BioAg Learning Site sign and onion plants.

Denise getting some fresh air on the ferry
Denise getting some fresh air on the ferry.
Vera and Cindy
Vera and Cindy

Next it was off to Seattle, where we stayed at the Green Tortoise Hostel near Pike Place market. Students were excited to have some time to explore the big city! Our final project was at Northwest Harvest Food Bank, which was set up to flesh out the picture of our food production and donation chain.

On the final afternoon of our trip, we sorted and packaged nearly 4,250 pounds of food that would be distributed to local food banks. We then got back in our vans, took off for the journey back across the state to Pullman, and talked the whole way home as we continued to get to know one another.

A project from the 2009 trip at 21 Acres Farm in Everett, Wash.
A project from the 2009 trip at 21 Acres Farm in Everett, Wash.

This trip is special for many reasons. Students get the opportunity to explore the state, see beautiful countryside, and connect with fellow students and community members. We learn, in a very concrete way, ideas and skills pertaining to sustainable food production and natural resource protection.

It is important to see where our food comes from, how creativity and ingenuity can create sustainable systems, and how engagement in community issues creates change and makes a difference.

Getting to know each other. Dave Tharp, left, has been a trip leader on every Spring Break expedition.
Getting to know each other. Dave Tharp, left, has been a trip leader on every Spring Break expedition.

All the while, students are having fun! For example, every year a mascot is found early in the trip and an all-out war is waged to secure possession of this mascot. This year, each van had a mascot, such as a stuffed toy snake and a dancing, singing toy chicken. All along the trip, mascots were stolen and held ransom. In previous years, the mascots have been a pink plastic flamingo found in a flood area and a cloth flying squirrel armed with a slingshot. Who knows what the mascot will be next year…

What we do know is that the trip is a success. Daily reflection activities allow for students to share their highs and lows from the day, things they noticed, learning that took place, and future directions to go with community service and involvement. Students continually rave about the richness of the experience. They acquire a depth of learning, bonding and involvement in the community that cannot be achieved in the classroom. This improves the community in a very tangible way and builds relationships that spark each other’s continued civic engagement.

by Ian Chittle, graduate assistant, Center for Civic Engagement