The following was first published on the Gateway Greening blog in August of 2016. As all our programs reflect on our 2017 summer, we keep coming back to the opportunity to do rigorous work together- physically, socially, emotionally, even spiritually- as what we are most grateful for.
Dig It crew members are on the home stretch, with only 1 week to go before their summer jobs are over. They have done some HARD physical work, jobs that would make adults cringe and retreat into air conditioning. Last week, we harvested 6 rows of potatoes at La Vista Farm in Godfrey (in addition to rows and rows of tomatoes and carrots). It was 95 degrees, and crew members were crawling through the soil filling up buckets behind the potato digger. Some potatoes were rotten, and when crew members grabbed them, the liquefied potatoes exploded onto their hands. We were sweaty, stinky, and coated in potato goo and a thick layer of dirt. Naturally, crew were complaining and moving pretty slowly by the end of that job, and the crew leaders had their work cut out for them to keep the group motivated and working.
We stopped to eat lunch, and after lunch we had about 20 minutes before we needed to leave. The farmer gave us some options: either we could leave then, or we could speed pick green beans for a few minutes. Without hesitation (okay, maybe with a little hesitation), our crew went out into the beans.
I was incredibly proud of them. This is what it’s all about- being willing to help somebody, to do it well, and to finish the job with a positive attitude, even if it makes you sore and hot and uncomfortable.
However, this is not the hardest work we’ve done this summer. The most challenging task Dig It takes on, from the day they start until long after they finish, is the task of building a loving and supportive community from a group of strangers. Many adults comment to me that Dig It reminds them of day camp, and that it doesn’t seem like a real job. They don’t usually mean this in a negative way– they just notice all the games we play every morning, or the time we spend talking and reflecting, and understandably make an assumption that those things don’t count as work.
True, building community is not usually a central task in our day jobs, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t work. From the first day of Dig It, we push our youth to open up and share things about themselves with the group. We push them to treat each other with respect and dignity. We help them find strategies to resolve conflicts with other crew members. We play games every day to practice our group problem-solving skills and to build trust with each other. We train them to ask each other if they need help. If someone is working alone, ask if they want some company. Hold each other accountable– if a friend is slacking off, remind them that we’re here to work. We learn about how social structures like racism and sexism affect our individual group, and we take steps to hold ourselves to a higher standard. Given the choice between picking slimy potatoes in the heat or doing this community-building work, I think many adults would choose the potatoes. But out of all that community building, we get a group of young people who take care of each other, and can accomplish any task while honoring the opinions and ideas of each individual.
There is no shortcut to this outcome. No amount of money can buy a loving and supportive community. You’ve got to do the work, every day, even on bad days. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. Our crew has truly shown up for each other and done that work, and it’s not the kind of thing you can un-learn.