From the outset, the development of the Community Greenhouse had the involvement of youth in mind as we sought to present the challenges and opportunities of learning about sustainability in practical and applied ways.
From food security, renewable energy and water conservation to learning new skills, presenting career options and offering meaningful employment Groundswell’s Applied Sustainable Living programs provide students with living examples and practical opportunities to move beyond theory, beyond “that can’t be done” into the realm of the achievable. At the heart of this approach is inspiration and hope that for youth it is the real and essential fuel of their and our future.
Groundswell’s youth internships are a primary example of how we provide young people with these opportunities. For the past several years youth aged 13 and up have worked in various capacities at the community greenhouse, permaculture garden and in our community programming.
For some it is their first venture into working outside of their family environment and the basics of learning to work is the early focus of their experience and training. For our senior interns, generally aged 18 and up, greater challenges and responsibilities are part of the job and opportunities for research and self directed projects also come into play.
Ellen Wilker was born and raised in Invermere. She attends the University of Victoria, taking courses in environmental studies and geography. If you are at all feeling down about the future, chat with Ellen. Here’s what she’s talking about these days…
“The light came on in a first year biology class, I had a big ‘Ah Hah’ as the discussion focused on human interactions with our environment,” says Ellen. “I realized this is kind of what my parents have been talking about but sometimes it takes somebody else to twig the realization” (parents you may quietly rejoice in this amongst yourselves for a moment).
So now that the switch is on, what would you like to pursue?
“Rather than deciding ‘I will be a (fill in the career blank)’ I’m taking a broader approach and focusing on gaining knowledge in applied settings. This feeds my creativity and critical thinking skills and leads to working in real world situations. I like to get to the source and get immersed in a practical way. This makes me more mindful and I can apply it to day-to-day life”
“Farming at Edible Acres was my first exposure to this approach last summer. I’d heard and talked a lot about food security but then I was doing it, growing food, getting my hands dirty, working with others. I realized I can do this, it wasn’t so scary or intimidating then.”
Do you think ‘scary’ prevents other young people from jumping into this type of learning?
“Lots of young people are interested in the state of the world, sustainability and other big issues,” says Ellen. “But it’s intimidating. You’re trying to get your own life figured out and you don’t know where to start tackling these larger issues.”
What would you say to other youth feeling this way?
“I’d say stay curious, keep in touch with yourself, keep asking questions, recognize when a strong interest pops out and then explore it hard. You’ll find it’s fun, confidence building and creates desire to check out more subjects”
It was with this attitude that Ellen approached Groundswell with a drawing and an idea for a research project about water and temperature regulation in greenhouses. She has since built a small structure she’s experimenting with in the Groundswell permaculture garden.
“It’s so cool to find that others are interested in this too,” says Ellen. “Through Groundswell and this internship I’ve been talking with all kinds of people. Networking is a huge part of feeding the search for knowledge I have and Groundswell provides a great environment to do that in. I’m finding my confidence is increasing and it’s leading to thoughts about business connections and how I can use this work in the future.”
To learn more about the Community Greenhouse, permaculture garden, Groundswell’s applied sustainable living programs and Ellen’s project, join Ellen at 10 a.m. every Sunday until August 29th.
Bill Swan is the Executive Director at Groundswell Network Society and also operates Greenman Sustainable Solutions specializing in renewable energy.