Each year, Deerfield students can apply for a Workman Grant, established in 2000 in honor of David T. Workman ’50 to encourage community service by offering compensation to students who aim to improve their communities.
This summer, among the interesting projects were those undertaken by Maia Taylor ’16 and Hatty Wang ’16. Taylor completed a project involving local farms in the area surrounding Deerfield, and Wang used her grant to improve education and fight poverty in Beiyu, China.
“I was interested in farming, and I wanted to do some volunteering,” Taylor explained. “My initial interest in farming and agriculture was made because of my interest in food: what kind of food I’m putting into my system, and how hormones injected in food can affect my personal health. I don’t know [when] I decided ‘food, farming,’ but I got really into it.”
Taylor began her work by emailing seven farms in the area surrounding Deerfield Academy, and two of the farms, Natural Roots and Clarkdale Fruit Farms, accepted her help. In addition, Taylor worked at Deerfield’s new greenhouse. She used her grant money for natural resources, tools, and her own compensation.
Her tasks at each of the locations varied greatly. At the Clarkdale Farms, she cleared excess fruit from the apple trees, removing apples that were too small or too heavy. She also pruned excessive grape leaves to insure the grape vines got adequate sun.
At the Natural Roots farm, the workers host an activity called Community Sustained Agriculture (CSA). Members of the CSA purchase a share of the farm crops, and every Tuesday, they pick up their shares, which are generally organic vegetables. “On a typical day [I would arrive at] 7:30 a.m.,” Taylor explained. She sorted the vegetables, and then horses carried the harvested produce to a washroom. After stocking the cleaned produce on the shelves of the CSA barns, she would transplant seeded sprouts from the greenhouse into the soil. Taylor’s day was over around 6:30 p.m.
At the new Deerfield greenhouse, Taylor worked with Katie Salinetti, a member of DA’s grounds crew, to clean out boxes to prepare the greenhouse for this school year.
Overall Taylor found the entire experience eye-opening. She noted that Natural Roots farm “is completely horse powered,” and said that “watching horses work the machines [was] something you don’t get to see every day.” Another highlight of her experience was the interesting people with whom Taylor volunteered. “I met this really cool man named Ed, who’s 60,” she said. “He’s a glass blower, and we spent some really good time planting lettuce together … One of the things I found pretty cool about Natural Roots, Clarkdale, and other organic farms is that they want to provide for the people,” Taylor explained. She noted that that the farms also redistribute food to stock food banks.
On the opposite side of the globe, Hatty Wang’s summer grant focused on bringing Non-Governmental Organizations (non-profit NGO’s) to the impoverished town of Beiyu, China in the Shanxi Province.
Wang has received the Workman Grant for the past three years and returns to the same town each summer in order to continue her initial goal of improving the town’s education. She began her first year by volunteering as a teacher at the Beiyu Elementary School, which has only two classrooms and two teachers for sixty students.
The following summer, she returned with a team of volunteers. This year, Wang explained, her project evolved “from simply being a teaching volunteer to addressing local poverty.” Realizing that she could only help out during the summer, this year she “visited and interned at an NGO and drew up a proposal that was later sent to various NGOs and charity foundations in order to help Beiyu improve its education quality and eliminate local poverty in a sustainable manner.”
While volunteering at the school, Wang woke up at six a.m. to have breakfast, feed the chickens, walk 30 minutes to school and prepare for her classes before school started at 7:30 a.m. Wang began the school day with morning read-aloud sessions and then assisted with the next three morning classes. She taught on a wide range of topics including Chinese and the African migrations. After lunch, she led one more class followed by “activity time,” which Wang generally organized.
Though she has volunteered in China for three summers, Wang explained that her work has yet to be completed: “One charity group has already implemented one local teaching volunteer who has initiated his first project— a gardening project that not only betters the look of the school, but also has an educational value for science classes, “Wang said. “The charity group is willing to help carry out my comprehensive proposal for Beiyu, which aims to place Beiyu above the poverty line through environmental planning, medical betterment, educational advancement, and economic solidification over a five-year span.”
During her time volunteering at the school, Wang stayed with a student named YaoYao, a third grader whose dream is to become a dancer. “Beiyu is a remote town from any major cities, so there is no place to buy dancing shoes, and her family does not have the money to spare, either,” she said. “I designed and stitched a pair of dancing shoes for her. Hand made. Haute couture. I didn’t have much free time, so I worked on the shoes while I watched the geese. When she tried on the shoes on her birthday, and they fit, it was probably one of the happiest moments of my life.”
Later, Wang mailed YaoYao another pair of dancing shoes she had bought in Beijing.