College students serve others during spring break

Farm Forum

ST. MARY-OF-THE-WOODS, Ind. (AP) — Pruning in the orchard and preparing plants for the garden has been part of the experience for a group of Minnesota students who spent a week as an alternative spring break at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

The students traveled from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota in Winona to participate in their S.O.U.L. trip — Serving Others United in Love — at the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice at SMWC, a ministry of the Sisters of Providence.

“Our school has these S.O.U.L. trips all across the country, but I specifically wanted this one to learn about sustainability and about livestock and crops,” said senior Samantha Casillas, a psychology and philosophy major.

Since arriving on March 3, she has sifted manure and compost, watered and walked the alpacas, and pruned trees in the orchard.

“I’m hoping that I’m able to change my perspective on how we live,” Casillas told the Tribune-Star. “I’m trying to make myself more self-sufficient by learning to do things myself, and I hope to graduate with a sustainable outlook.”

Casillas said she was impressed that in her first meals with the Sisters, she learned the vegetables were grown on site as part of the Sisters’ community supported agriculture, or CSA, which is a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a grower.

“One thing I find really interesting is that all the produce goes to the CSA, and I wish more people knew about getting their produce from the CSA,” Casillas said.

Nearby in the greenhouse, senior Shawna Stephens was joined by senior Kenzie Corrow and sophomore Lindsey Honkananto to fill flats with soil and plant forget-me-nots and marigolds that can be transplanted when spring sets in.

Stephens, who is studying environmental biology and resource management, said a fellow Minnesota student recommended that she join the S.O.U.L. trip to the White Violet Center.

“I spoke to a student who came here last year, and they suggested I come here because they learned a lot and the people here are very friendly,” she said.

Carrow said she enjoyed the laid-back style of the SMWC campus, and she enjoyed learning more about organic gardening. However, this learning experience has nothing to do with her majors, which are criminal justice and psychology pre-law.

Honkanen, on the other hand, has been an eco-student for many years, attending the School of Environmental Studies in Apple Valley, Minn., as a high school junior and senior.

“My dream job is to work in a youth camp and teach kids about the environment,” she said.

Other students on the trip assisted on March 5 at the Providence Food Pantry in West Terre Haute.

Robyn Morton, associate director of White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, said that having the student assistance in preparation for the spring plantings and summer growing season is important to the local sustainable agriculture efforts.