When, in early March, news of the quickly spreading novel coronavirus began to trickle into our newspapers and social media feeds, the staff at City Sprouts immediately began thinking through how this unprecedented event would affect one of our signature programs, the Urban Farming Internship. Could we still safely host a large group of high school and college students for a four-month educational experience based around building community, producing, preparing, and preserving food, and developing leadership skills? To be honest, we weren’t sure. The decision to invest time and resources into developing a safe, socially distanced internship became easier to make once we began to hear about how this pandemic was impacting the ability of some Omahans to access fresh, healthy food while struggling with the economic fallout of COVID-19 closures and cutbacks.
The decision to hire, train, learn from and work with 16 young people was made only once City Sprouts had accomplished a long time goal: expanding its farming operations. Building on solid internship experiences at the Decatur Urban Farm and City Sprouts South in past years, interns and staff increased the land under City Sprouts’ stewardship from just shy of half an acre to over 1.5 acres this summer. This impressive expansion of cultivated land and the subsequent boom in produce City Sprouts grew and distributed would not have been possible without the dedicated work of our 16 interns, three intern team leaders, and a brand new, team-based internship structure.
Interns were, for the first time, split into three teams each with an experienced team leader, and were responsible for the care and maintenance of 2 of City Sprouts urban farm sites. This dispersed, team-based model allowed staff and interns to maintain appropriate social distance and a loose pod structure… all of which helped City Sprouts make it through what became (after an extended fall work schedule) a five-month urban farming internship with ZERO COVID-19 cases, a fact we’re all still proud of. And while we missed the pure joy, excitement, and unadulterated enthusiasm of having all the interns together in a large group on a regular basis, we were able to catch little glimpses of it at group harvest workdays or at our end of season barbecue...and it’s those moments we’ll be carrying forward into next year. Because while the 16 City Sprouts Urban Farming Interns did help us massively expand our food production capacity, did help us grow a record-breaking amount of produce for our communities and were some of the most enjoyable, hard-working young folks I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet; when you boil it down it’s about providing these incredible young people the space to meet new friends, develop useful leadership skills and have a really great time.
We think we did a pretty great job of that this summer, and we look forward to doing an even better one next year!