By Lilianna Bento
Service through Energy Corps allowed me to explore my interests of growing food and teaching. I helped my family in the garden from a young age and developed a passion for food. My interest in teaching is more recent but not any less important to me. Service is an opportunity to explore one’s passions while giving to the community. I am glad I decided to accept this service and grateful to learn so much. Even though my term of service was short with Energy Corps, I will forever be grateful I was able to explore old interests of mine.
My interest in growing food started when I would help tend to the garden at my childhood home in California’s Central Valley. California weather allowed us to plant and harvest an abundance of food: tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, onions, garlic, potatoes, collard greens, which gave me very basic experience in growing vegetables. I earned more experience growing vegetables during my undergraduate degree when I took a practicum with Towne’s Harvest, Montana State University’s teaching farm. My time on this farm taught me basic equipment and planting techniques.
During my service, I applied what I had learned from my past experiences to the SIFT Farm and gained more specific knowledge about when and how to plant crops. I find a sense of fulfillment and happiness from tending the crops. My favorite part of the whole process is harvesting fruits and vegetables. I plan to take the knowledge I learn in this experience into the future when I plant my own productive gardens or farm.
Recently I re-sparked my interest in teaching as a possible career and saw this service experience as a Farm Energy Educator as a good opportunity to gain experience in this field. Growing up, I had a few experiences in leadership and teaching that sparked my interest in it. I held a few leadership roles in 4-H learned where I learned how to lead a group and interact with young children. And, of course, there were the dreaded group projects and presentations throughout high school and college which gave me the platform to practice teaching to a group.
With COVID-19 there were less opportunities to teach but I was fortunate enough to teach children ranging in age from Kindergarten to 6th grade from the local YMCA. These children learned about farm energy and general agriculture topics such as planting seeds and transplants, harvesting, insects, pollinators, soil, compost, worms, and weeds. This was my first-time making curriculum and I had a few bumps along the way. In the beginning, I would make the lesson too specific or in depth for the age group that came to the farm that day. I learned how to think on my feet in these instances and find fun activities for the kids to do such as comparing worms to gummy worms and a pollination game. Most surprising to me is what the kids love to do on the farm: water the raised beds in the YMCA kid garden and visit the chickens. My interest in entomology, or the study of insects, led me to collect various caterpillars and cocoons I found on the farm and raise them to adulthood. The kids loved seeing the caterpillars and eventual moths and butterflies. One of the cocoons I found ended up being a wasp which was a new experience for me! I plan to take this experience into the future as I hope to teach agriculture or outdoor education.