Get Into The Garden, No Green Thumb Required


After the resounding success of the previous three years, ReWild Long Island is again hosting the 2023 Summer Program. The program is run by an organizing team that includes ten student organizers from the 2022 program. Aimed at high school students and adult volunteers who are motivated to further biodiversity, climate resilience, and food security in North Shore communities, the program is scheduled to begin June 24 and continue through October 8.
When asked about the origins of the highly successful program, Raju Rajan, president of ReWild Long Island, credited the COVID-19 pandemic. “This program came out of COVID, because there was very little that we could do in indoor spaces. So we had a program in Port Washington where we partnered with Plant A Row For the Hungry, where they were collecting vegetables from people’s homes to donate to the food pantry, and that was not possible during COVID. So we have to completely rethink how we would support you know, the folks that are food insecure, while at the same time creating something about climate anxiety and biodiversity. And that’s really how the program was born.”
The Summer Program takes place at multiple locations throughout the Town of North Hempstead. Some of the areas covered are designing and presenting a sustainable garden with a team, organic and regenerative food production for local pantries, rewilding, sustainable landscaping, nature walks, bird banding and monarch butterflies release. All of the activities are outdoors and in-person.
Rajan stated that the program is designed to help interns and volunteers explore and broaden their environmental experience. “The cool thing about this program is we encourage students to rotate and do a little bit of everything because we don’t want them to just go and get a narrow perspective on sustainable landscaping. There’s so many different sustainable ways of building sustainability in our landscape. And we want our students to experience it all. At the same time, we realize that students have schedule issues and you know, they may be going away for a week. In summer, sometimes you don’t have complete control of your schedule. So we allow them to sign up for things that maybe are closer to them.”
There are two things Rajan and the organizers are looking for from potential interns: passion and commitment. Rajan said, “you should fundamentally care about (something), whether it’s feeding hungry people or about earthworms or about butterflies or about plants or about climate change or something in the community.”
As far as the commitment goes, it should be something the individual is looking forward to, rather than another item to fit into their schedule. “If you’re scheduled and you have like a summer camp, and this, and that, and everything else, it’s very hard for you to put that time and effort. It becomes a chore. I don’t want it to be a chore; I want it to be a joy and a passion.” Rajan said.
Annie Yao of Great Neck, an intern from 2022 who has returned this year as an organizer, certainly has that passion. She expressed her satisfaction in helping build community and seeing the results of her hard work. “(My favorite part) really has to be community, I think. Being around so many people who are also kind and welcoming. They care about the same things and are so willing to help you and teach you. I personally didn’t have a lot of experience gardening just because where I used to live was mostly urban. It was really cool to have everyone help you with hands on work. And especially seeing the literal and metaphorical fruits of your labor at the end of everything. It was so rewarding, especially when you’re planting it and then you’re harvesting it by hand and knowing that it goes to a good source after.”
Sisters Tiffany and Cynthia Zhang, also 2022 interns from Great Neck who have returned as organizers, were similarly imbued with a sense of accomplishment. Cynthia said that pulling out invasive morning glories was particularly satisfying for her. “It just felt like I was just saving the vegetables and new plants from like being strangled. And it was really fun, and I felt like I was doing something that was helping the garden too, even though it was a really small task.”
Tiffany also enjoyed weeding the garden, saying that it made her feel powerful. Another of her favorite experiences was helping to care for monarch butterfly caterpillars. “We had someone come in who helps, who kind of who takes the monarch butterfly eggs and takes care of them. They brought these monarch butterflies (in) and we saw three caterpillars become a chrysalis, and I thought that was really cool being able to see that with my own eyes.”
Intern and volunteer applications opened April 1. Completed applications are due May 1. Interviews begin in early May. Students of all abilities are encouraged to apply. We seek to ensure diversity and representation across all categories, including gender, race, socio-economic status, and ability. You can apply to be a student intern or a student volunteer. Those selected to be interns must complete 60 hours of work, including training. They receive a $300 stipend and a certificate of completion. Volunteers must complete 30 hours of work, including training. There is no stipend for volunteers but they do receive a certificate of completion. This is a good option for those with limited availability.
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