A Team Effort, A Farm Tour

More than a service project:

For me, the experience of being a student at Emory University is wonderful in part due to the size of my class. There aren’t so many students that I see someone new everyday in the nursing building. It really is a family atmosphere. Well, take that experience and shrink the feeling even smaller — we are a team of 16 BSN students that took the three-week community health course and are now immersed in an intense program together in a small south Georgia town. Talk about an opportunity to get to know your fellow classmates!

Our team is unique and everyone brings together a different personality and set of strengths. Some are born leaders, others are incredible organizers, and still others bring a great attitude of caring and compassion to the team. There are a few people in the group that I literally never spoke to during the entire first year of the BSN program, and now I can laugh with them as though we’ve always been close friends. My two roommates, Max and Andrew, are fun, respectful and sincere guys, and even the experience of rooming with them here at the Hampton Inn has been a rewarding one. We reflect together on the day’s events and how we have been impacted, we joke with each other about who snores the loudest, and we encourage each other through the long and tough days. As the trip is now coming to an end, I have been amazed by our entire group’s teamwork and ability to get things done when we need to. As Anna summarized in her post, “The Elusive Master Plan,” things always come together when they need to. I’m going to miss this team and the atmosphere here in Moultrie when the week is over, but I look forward to the new friendships I will carry forward into the fall semester.

The reality for farmers in southern Georgia:

This afternoon, I took part in a farm tour. A group from our team piled into a large van and headed south of town to a series of properties owned by a local farmer. Unlike our daily routine of working at the night camps, this tour involved getting an intimate look at the actual farms. Two staff members from the Ellenton Clinic were our guides at the front of the van. As we pulled off the paved road and made our way between the first two fields, I once again realized I didn’t know much about agriculture. “What vegetable is that?” or “What grows there?” were probably the most common questions as we passed a variety of crops. I’ve eaten about every vegetable and fruit sold at Publix, but I don’t think I could tell you the first thing about what each plant looks like … or how the vegetable grows. That was the first, and simplest, realization for me.

The rows of vegetables were beautiful and artfully arranged in perfect rows. Driving down the narrow lanes amidst the fields was almost hypnotic. As we pulled into a new field, we caught our first glimpse of workers. There they were, in the scorching afternoon sun, smiling vibrantly and waving at the passing van — a van that was stamped with the Ellenton Clinic name and logo. The relationship between the clinic and the workers was apparent, and I was appreciative in that moment to be able to volunteer with such a program. In my short 2-week trip to Moultrie, I am able to take advantage of the decades of service put forth by the volunteers and staff of the Ellenton Clinic … what an incredible opportunity to experience that kind of trust.

I was amazed at seeing the men, and women, hand-pick the peppers. I grew up fairly naive, as I suspect many people in this country do, assuming that most vegetables and fruits in this country are harvested by giant tractors — ripping easily through the fields in wide, sweeping motions to effortlessly remove the vegetables in a matter of seconds. I was wrong, and today I witnessed the reality for the first time. Each pepper was individually scouted, assessed, and picked by strong yet calloused hands. (I have seen the toughness of their fingers from acquiring blood samples at night camp.) Most crops are at waist height or lower. Many vegetables actually rest on the ground itself, requiring the workers to bend completely over — time and time and time again. The work is not easy, and the environment is not forgiving. I could see, in that moment peering out the van window, why agriculture is known as one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States.

As our tour progressed, we reached a series of fields toward the back of the farmer’s property. The field to our left was empty, and the field to our right was scattered with rotten squash. We learned in the next few moments, regrettably, that farmers this year are beginning to lose hundreds of acres of crops — to the climate and vanishing farmworkers. The intense heat and drought this year has caused the crops to ripen earlier than anticipated. To further compound the problem, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011 (known commonly as House Bill 87 or Georgia’s “immigration law”), has scared away many of the workers whom the farmers relied upon to harvest their crops.

We have also seen a similar trend at our night camps — sometimes seeing less than half as many men at certain camps as the program did last year.

I have no “premonition” about what will become of the farming situation in Georgia. I only know that today I was confronted with the harsh reality of the current condition. For me, it was a eye-opening. I was educated about something I take for granted on a daily basis. I will definitely have a new perspective the next time I walk down through the produce section at the farmers market. Maybe you will too?

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