How Did YOU Spend Your Summer?

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What did you do over summer? Many students will head back to school this fall armed with information to write an essay about their summer experience. Some students will talk about summer camp, others will talk about travel to the beach, mountains or other exotic locations around the globe. As I head back to NC State University to complete my Masters Degree, I will be sharing my summer experience as an Intern for the N.C. Cooperative Extension in Lee County. I had the opportunity to work along side of some of the best professionals in Extension.

From day one the staff welcomed me and put me through the paces of finding out what Extension is all about. They treated me as a fellow colleague and integrated me into the staff, involving me in projects and teaching me as we went along. My ten-week internship flew by; in an instant it was gone.

In preparation for my internship, I was invited to attend and meet representatives of the county during Extension’s ‘Report to the People’, an annual presentation to the county manager, commissioners, advisory committee and key stakeholders in Lee County. This was an opportunity for Cooperative Extension to share their work and impact made in the county over the last year. I hope to be part of the program next year to share my experiences as a summer intern.

My internship started May 18th and immediately I was engaged. The Lee County Master Gardener Volunteers (MGV) where training new volunteers to join their ranks and I became a member and volunteer for the class on my first day at work. At the end of the classes, a MGV trainee and I taught a microscope class. A major responsibility of the MGVs is to assist the community with horticulture, home pest and garden issues and I was able to support them through my internship.

A major project I was asked to coordinate was the community garden located at the McSwain Center. We planted a Straw Bale Garden with the bales prepared and vegetable plants transplanted directly into the straw as a growing medium. We ran into some challenges, but recently the garden has exploded. We are harvesting beans, peppers, watermelons, cantaloupe, cucumbers, squash, eggplant, zucchini, okra, tomatoes, herbs, flowers, and hope to harvest citrine later this fall. This bounty has community members thinking about preparing the garden for the fall crops like radishes, cabbage, sprouts, beets, turnip, greens, etc.

Working with the new MGV interns, I volunteered to coordinate a week long Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) Horticulture Science program, targeting youth ages eight to twelve. We worked together to develop a program that would engage participants learning about the science of horticulture. Each day the program had a different focus starting with insects. We conducted a plant identification scavenger hunt at San-Lee Park, followed by a day discovering the fascination of soil. The kids loved putting on gloves and digging through compost to discover what kind of insects they could find that were breaking down organic matter. Finally, we spent the last day investigating gardening. We had a taste test where the youth got a chance to taste different and unusual fruit that they may not have experienced before such as avocado, kiwi, star fruit, mango, along with the usual watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, cherry, peach, blue, black, and raspberries. We even had garden fresh, roasted okra, which they LOVED and went back for seconds.

My personal learning experience included learning how to blanch vegetables as well as pressure and water-bath canning to preserve beans and tomatoes. Additionally, I was afforded the opportunity to shadow agents in other counties to better understand Extension and the work of the county agents. I also had the opportunity to learn about county government by visiting with the county Manger and attending a County Commissioner’s meeting.

My last assignment was to conduct a Rain Barrel workshop. From organizing, promoting, presenting and evaluating, I was challenged to deliver a complete educational program. I energetically agreed. The demand for the workshop was so high in the community we offered a second class. Twenty-one rain barrels were constructed over two evenings with each participant taking home a rain barrel to paint and use to harvest rainwater.

I want to personally thank the people of Lee County for their warm welcome into the community. You allowed me to enrich my practical experience by allowing me to practice what I have learned in school; researching, working with volunteers, teaching and honing my people skills. I hope I was successful in providing assistance where needed to solve an issue with home gardening, horticulture, turf grass, or home pest issues when you called or stopped by the McSwain Center. Additionally, I want to thank the Master Gardener Volunteers for their mentorship. These volunteers are the greatest. Finally, I would like to thank the staff of N.C. Cooperative Extension in Lee County for their professionalism and support during my time with them. Without their guidance, my summer experience would have been a flop. This is how I spent MY summer. How about you?

Mart Bumgarner, is the 2015 Extension Summer Intern for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.