Big Green’s University of Chicago Metcalf Intern Partnership

Hi! My name is Grace Lee, and I am an Environmental and Urban Studies major at the University of Chicago. This summer, I’m interning for Big Green Chicago. So far, my internship has been an incredible experience. I got to partake in the Kick-off Day celebrations for Big Green’s 200th Learning Garden in Chicago at Hawthorne Magnet School, I’ve had the opportunity to weed and plant new seeds in many different gardens across Chicago, and I’ve had the pleasure of working with students and staff who are passionate about utilizing Learning Gardens as a means for change. 

What initially drew me to Big Green was my experience leading my high school’s sustainable gardening club, through which I was able to witness the power of gardens to build community and influence perspectives on sustainability. Therefore, it was of no surprise to me how valuable Big Green’s Learning Gardens are in shaping the education and the culture of schools. However, I found myself quite surprised at the extent to which students were excited about the Learning Gardens. 

During one visit to Bret Harte Elementary School, I was helping weed the garden beds when a group of kids who had been playing on the playground came over and asked if they could help. They were quite attentive as I explained how to pull weeds. Their enthusiasm carried over to our planting day a week later. The kids were extremely curious, asking about all the bugs they saw, the quality of the soil and fertilizer, and methods of irrigation. One student kept expressing her frustration that society was not doing enough to protect Mother Nature but hoped that her gardening efforts would be helpful. My visits to schools have only strengthened my belief in Big Green’s mission. Big Green provides a one-of-a-kind, hands-on educational opportunity that I wish I could have had in my childhood. The students we work with are generally at the age where they are old enough to understand the fundamentals of gardening but still young enough to approach the process with an open, curious mind. 

My internship has also allowed me to witness firsthand the benefits of locally and sustainably grown food. Previously, I had not been aware to the extent of which a toxic food culture was impacting our society. The food we eat is harmful to both our health and that of the environment. It’s a problem that’s often not discussed enough in society, and I am so excited to work with Big Green to help combat this problem by working with students in Learning Gardens. These past few weeks, I’ve already found myself being much more mindful of what I eat, making the effort to choose healthier, more sustainable options.