Thank You and Congratulations to Our Summer 2021 Apprentices!

From left to right: Mitali Khanna Sharma, Jo Phillips, Ana Carolina Wisa, Anna Warren, and Kentaro Kumanomido (AmeriCorps VISTA storytelling associate)

Written by Mitali Khanna Sharma

Right between the summer solstice and fall equinox, the arrival of August at EarthDance means at once gathering the abundant harvests of the summer and envisioning the abundance of the future. While our tomatoes ripen, greens flourish, and paw paws line the orchard trees, our farmers are hard at work planning, seeding, and transplanting fall and winter crops. In the same way, as August means we say goodbye to our incredible group of 2021 summer apprentices, we want to highlight their journeys this summer, as well as their visions for the future.

Anna Warren

Before Anna came to EarthDance, she did not consider herself a gardener. Instead, her interest in agro-ecology stemmed from a broader kinship with the natural world that she had cultivated while playing amongst the woods as a child. As she grew older and learned more about the threats facing these ecosystems she had come to love, Anna felt called to find a line of work in which she could protect, preserve, and connect with the environment. Small-scale, organic farming seemed like the perfect fit: to Anna, farming represents a way of moving towards a lifestyle of what she calls “near-absolute ethical righteousness” in which each and every action can directly benefit the land and those who walk that land. Empowered by this calling, Anna began volunteering at EarthDance in April of 2021. As she witnessed the farm awaken during that spring (in part due to her efforts!), she was moved to pursue organic agriculture even further. And so, she applied for the full-time, ten week summer AmeriCorps VISTA apprenticeship.

Through these past weeks, Anna has gotten even more dedicated to her long-term vision of a career in agriculture. She feels that her time at EarthDance has shown her that small-scale farming is not simply about working for the land, but working for the community and how intertwined those two are. And beyond dedication, Anna feels more confident in her ability to actually execute this long-term vision after being so fully immersed in the production and operations of EarthDance. Anna will be a first-year at Macalester College this fall, where she plans to study Environmental Studies and French, all the while continuing to garden and farm. We can’t wait to see where her reverence for the environment and the ethics of farming takes her!

Congrats on completing the apprenticeship, Anna! Anna’s Dream Farm: “My dream farm would be one with everything. Vegetable beds with just about anything I can grow. Fruit trees spotted about and lining the pathways. A greenhouse or two, and maybe some aquaponics. Herbs – fields of lavender and lemongrass and spearmint, with pollinator crops bordering them all. A cross country course for high schoolers and neighbors (I would want people to pick fruit if they were to run or visit). Big compost piles at each corner of the place. A forest with little secret nooks – benches and birdhouses and shady spots under tree canopies. A small house, with a trained garden right behind it, and a big cellar for canning and pickling. An outdoor black cat that likes to be petted. Some beehives decorated with colors and etchings. Egg-laying hens with lots of roaming space, and just one mean rooster that serves as an alarm clock. A pet dairy cow. A mailbox painted light blue. A barn and storage sheds and a few fences. Being part of a CSA. Volunteers I could pay in homemade breakfasts, or trips to lunch or dinner, and staff I could pay a fair salary to. Vast expanses of land, but some that I could look after all on my own, if I tried hard enough and needed to. I really do want one with everything – and so, I need to learn everything I can.”

Ana Carolina Wisa 

Though Ana’s mother was raised on a farm in Colombia, Ana did not think that she herself would follow her ancestral roots — that is, until she decided to plant sunflower seeds in her backyard out of boredom. Seeing the plants grow over time and experiencing such joy in taking care of them, Ana realized that she could see herself tending to plants as a career and decided to join the Agribusiness and Horticulture program at Southeast Missouri State University. The program requires a summer internship in a horticulture-related field and during her search for an internship, Ana stumbled upon the EarthDance summer apprenticeship. For her, the apprenticeship was uniquely attractive because it offered experience with a diverse range of the components of horticulture — from compost to orchard work. In fact, eager to learn as much as possible about these different facets, Ana often came in early to work with our orchard specialist!

After completing the apprenticeship, Ana feels that it has been an eye-opening experience that has truly exposed her to the multi-layered processes of managing a farm, as well as the beautiful promise of her chosen field. She used to think of horticulture and gardening as simply corn and soybeans, or other monoculture systems, but now sees how vibrant and nourishing to communities plants can truly be. After graduating with her horticulture degree in 2022, Ana hopes to continue exploring other horticultural fields besides food — specifically ornamentals and tropicals. (And fun fact: she hopes to also go abroad to Tuscany and delve into the horticulture and agriculture world there!).

Ana, congrats on completing the EarthDance apprenticeship! We look forward to seeing what you do with your love for plants and all the forms of beauty that they bring! Ana’s dream farm: “My dream farm would be a huge greenhouse with big mango, avocados, and banana trees, as well as tropical plants that could grow to full height like they would in the wild. I would want a golden pothos but one that was huge enough to reach the top of the greenhouse so it mimics the jungle.”

Mitali Khanna Sharma

While Mita had dreamt of working on an organic farm since high school, when she learnt about the social and environmental impacts of industrial agriculture, she thought that gardening and farming would remain a hobby while she pursued a standard academic track. After she started college in 2018, however, she felt overwhelmed by the siloed nature of academia and its lack of direct in-the-community action, especially in this moment of intertwined social and environmental crisis. Farming, then, started to mean something more to her than just living “in tune with nature:” she saw agro-ecology as radically interdisciplinary work which could foster justice and systems of care between people, as well as between people and the land. With this belief, Mita came to EarthDance as a storytelling intern during the summers of 2019 and 2020 to explore the communications and marketing area of farming non-profits. The more she wrote about the farm, however, the more she wanted to actually have her hands in the dirt and be able to steward organic systems herself.

This desire led Mita to return to the farm as a 2021 summer apprentice. As she ends her time at EarthDance, Mita feels that the apprenticeship not only reaffirmed her belief in the joy and promise of agro-ecology, but actually gave her the experience and skills to work towards that joy and promise herself. After she graduates from Columbia University with a degree in English in December, Mita hopes to combine both an academic career in the environmental humanities and an agricultural career which converts theory into action. Congrats on completing the apprenticeship, Mita! We can’t wait to see what you do with your passion for the interdisciplinary nature of farming! 

Mita’s Dream Farm: “I have two dream farms — one urban and one rural. The urban farm would convert a vacant lot into a self-sustaining food forest. It would be biodiverse, full of native plants and perennials, and become a site for community gathering, as well as community mutual aid and food/nature accessibility. I would love to have a flock of chickens, and perhaps goats as well (if we have the space!), and lots of herbs from which we could make herbal medicine. For the rural, I dream of a farm that could practice both reforestation and permaculture-based food production. It would be so incredible to restore biodiversity and soil health to a piece of land, especially in the midwest, that has been so harmed by monoculture and colonization. This farm would have chickens, goats, cows, sheep, and maybe some other animals to model after a larger ecosystem, and become a space for all people to connect with the land and food on a larger scale. And I suppose ultimately, I dream of this dichotomy of rural and urban not being so strict and community farms being on the forefront of creating new systems that truly embody socio-ecological justice.”

Jo Phillps

Jo has spent her entire life caring for plants: her earliest memories consist of learning botany with her horticulturist mom and tending to their garden at home. She did not always think she would pursue a career in agriculture or horticulture herself, however.  When Jo initially went to college, she enrolled as a Music Education major. But as the climate crisis worsened and Jo learned more about the intersections of environmental issues and social injustice, she realized that working at the intersection of humans and the environment is where she truly wants to be. Shifting focus onto food systems, then, was a natural progression: Jo believes that food is the foundation of community and that local, regenerative agriculture can heal people, non-human beings, and the land all at once.

To take the plunge into the agricultural world, Jo decided to take a gap semester and work on an organic, communal homestead in Oregon. Upon returning to St. Louis, Jo saw the EarthDance apprenticeship as the next step in her effort to continue gathering knowledge about organic farming, specifically in a larger production setting, as well as connect with her hometown’s environmental and agro-ecological community. Sure enough, after completing these ten weeks, Jo feels that she has tapped into a St. Louis environmental justice and food sovereignty network that has reaffirmed her belief in the potential of local, regenerative agricultural movements and will provide her further opportunities to contribute to, and continue learning from, these movements. After graduating from Webster University with a degree in Intersectional Environmentalism in 2022, she wants to remain rooted in community-led food and environmental sovereignty movements, but may also branch out into environmental policy. Jo, we are so excited to see what you do with your commitment to environmental justice and passion for the power of food!

Congrats on completing the apprenticeship! Jo’s Dream Farm: “I dream of vast forested areas of native trees with many kinds of vegetable and food crops interplanted with native grasses and pollinator-attracting flowers beneath! I also dream of localized urban community gardens on every street corner, ranging from crop producing vegetable and fruit plots, native pollinator habitat plots, runoff-management rain gardens, educational and sensory (touch/smell/taste/etc) engaging plots, medicinal herb and plant gardens, naturescape play spaces with good climbing trees, and so much more. I personally would also love to cultivate a medicinal herb, plant, and fungi apothecary garden to be able to educate, help, and heal with plants!”