Layla Salomon | CIIP 2023 Blog Portfolio
In full honesty, I was a bit unsure about the cohort part of CIIP. I liked the idea of the supportive community, but part of my brain was worried it would be awkward and I would just feel out of place and disconnected. I am so happy I can say that wasn’t the case. My peer mentor group is so immensely kind, supportive, and accepting, and everyone else I’ve interacted with has been too. It was really fascinating to hear from so many different speakers and learn about just a few of the issues Baltimore faces and the organizations fighting them. I think the most impactful day for me was the scavenger hunt, though. I’m relatively familiar with the bus system here, so I wasn’t too surprised by anything on that end of things, but the scavenger hunt required me to go into a lot of areas of the city I had never been before. There were a few times where, instead of taking a bus or a subway from one place to another, we walked between places instead, and I think those were the most significant parts to me. We were able to soak in new neighborhoods, but we also saw how the residents seemed to view us. We received a lot of stares and comments (mostly joking or surprised and overall nice), and it made me realize how abnormal our presence just strolling around their community was. Baltimore is so heavily segregated, racially and economically, and I think the thought of crossing those borders can be scary, so it was reassuring to see that a lot of people accepted us, even after asking what school we were from. I really appreciate all the conversations we’ve had this week acknowledging the history between Hopkins and Baltimore and seeing how that relationship has changed over time. I think it’s helped calm some of my worried of seeming like an outsider with a savior complex when working with my community partner, and hopefully I’ll be able to bring support and strength to my internship over the next couple months.
This week working with Farm Alliance of Baltimore was really cool. I started off on Monday going straight into farm work, harvesting cabbages and washing and packing them at the Black Butterfly Urban Farmer Academy teaching farm. I’m a bit shy when it comes to new people and experiences, but everyone I’ve met this week has been so welcoming, and I’m really excited for the summer. They’ve been really happy to answer my questions and help guide me through the work, but I feel like they’re also trusting me to do a lot independently already, which I appreciate. My role seems like it’s going to be really multifaceted already. I’ll be farming, helping plan for a community event in July, doing routine farm admin work, social media posts, and other tasks as they come up. I’m also looking forward to helping with some organizational and standardizing tasks, which I find surprisingly fun. Something from orientation that I feel like I’ve really taken with me and has been helpful is being able to step back and just observe, listen, and soak in, rather than imposing my ideas onto an organization I’ve only just joined in a community I’m not from. I know myself as a person and that I have a tendency to want to help however that can, and sometimes that means pitching my ideas on how something can be improved. However, before even thinking about doing that, I need to take at least a few weeks to get familiar with everything and have some basis of why things are done the way they are. I’ve experienced this with things from harvesting cabbages just above where the stem ends to logging the data from harvests on paper and digitizing it at the end of the week, where the reasoning for doing something was related to information that I did not know before. I feel like I’m already learning a lot, and I’m excited to learn more in the next couple months.
One thing that I’ve had to adjust to with this internship is being okay with a fluctuating workload. This week was interesting, because I experienced both ends of the spectrum. For Wednesday and Thursday, I found myself not quite sure what I had to work on and sort of just taking my time with various small tasks, but on Friday I found that I had so many things I could be working on that I couldn’t even get to half of them before the day was over. Part of me was a bit upset at myself, realizing that I could have been working on some of the extra tasks earlier in the week, but I also recognized that I didn’t have all the knowledge and resources to do those things earlier, whether that’s knowledge about the tasks themselves or about how to find them when I’m not sure what to do. I think that’s another thing that’s different between working in the real world versus in school: not everything is given to you on a syllabus with precise deadlines and distributions. Fluctuations in workload are normal, and I’m learning to seek out my own assignments when I’m not sure what I should be doing.
This week was the first week where I had my official supervisor, since she had been abroad for work for the previous few weeks. It was really nice to finally meet her and I’m excited to work with her for the rest of the internship. The last month has been really good and I’ve been learning a lot, but I think I am going to feel a lot more supported now that she’s back. Before, it could be a little difficult since my temporary advisor was on the farm every day so sometimes I felt a bit lost when I was alone at the office, but just in the last few work days I’ve felt like I had a lot more guidance and like I have a stable point of contact for questions and concerns and anything else I might need.
We had a conversation about goals the first day she got back, and another on Friday when Whit came for the site visit, and I feel like my attitude has stayed pretty consistent throughout the internship. Farm Alliance has a lot of different areas of work they do and I’ve kind of been doing a bit of everything, and I’m really enjoying getting a taste of a lot of different things. I’m still figuring out what my future post graduation is going to look like, so I want to get as much experience in different things as I can and just soak it all in.
One thing that I’ve learned that I think is important is knowing what kind of working lifestyle works well for me. I’ve seen this particularly with working on the farm. I like the kind of work I do there and I think it’s a really cool and valuable experience to get to have, but I’ve also learned that waking up at 5:30am doesn’t suit the lifestyle I currently have or the one I’d like to have. I’ve also learned that I don’t really like to feel physically dirty, and just being covered in dirt and sweat can be really draining sometimes. I’ve also learned, though, that I really like taking care of plants and would like to have a nice produce garden someday. I also like organizing things and keeping things in order, especially to make things easier on other people. I don’t think a lifestyle of sitting in an office all day is my ideal either. It can feel a bit disconnected to spend so many hours looking at a computer and not actually interacting with the people that your work is meant to support. However, I do really like doing work that supports communities and supports a bigger picture with a lot of moving parts that come together to create something really impactful.
On Saturday the 22nd, Farm Alliance hosted our Community Day on the Black Butterfly Training Farm. It was kind of the culmination of a lot of the work I’ve been doing over the last month and a half, so it was really cool to see it come together and see the things I had worked on being put to use. The BBF is in Curtis Bay, which is a neighborhood and community that I’ve worked with before, so I was excited to see people come out and enjoy the event, and to observe the community dynamics that I’ve learned about in regard to Curtis Bay. I don’t know how to explain it, but there was a sense of familiarity that people had with each other and with the space that was really cool to see. It was also nice to give away produce to community members, especially after one conversation I had with a neighbor that passed by the farm on the Thursday before. She was talking about how she really liked how the farm has put the land to use and added a bit more beauty to the neighborhood. She then asked me where the produce goes, and I told her that it generally goes to the Waverly farmers market and to restaurants. She was disappointed, saying how she wished the food was going to the community, not to other neighborhoods that were benefitting off of them. It left me with a lot to think about. It’s a difficult thing because Farm Alliance’s focus is on uniting and providing resources for other Baltimore City farms, and the farm is a new addition with a program for teaching black butterfly residents how to farm and grow their own food, so it seems like the actual food distribution is a smaller piece of the whole. However, it made sense that the woman was unhappy with us shipping all this produce away. But then there’s also the consideration of what the money earned at Waverly is used for, since it might be an important part of keeping FAB’s main programs and goals alive. I don’t have the information to know how all these pieces contribute to the whole of what FAB is, but I think having community events like this one is a really important step to forming a relationship with the community and learning how we can meet their needs within our capacity.