“Starry Sky and Blueberries: My Agnes Fall Break Resolution” by Yuxin Zheng ’20

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What does a Scottie do during fall break? Stay in the dorm and chill? Travel around? Get caught up in homework? Yes, but beyond all of these, you also get a chance to do organic farming while breathing some pure air in the mountains. As a first year student at Agnes Scott, I went on an Alternative Service Experience with a group of ten students during fall break and learned about organic farming through community service while enjoying the nature.

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Pruning Apple Trees

Alternative Service Experience is a program that takes teams of students to a service site and promotes community building and engagement beyond our local Decatur community. It takes place in different locations during spring and fall breaks, each time featuring a  different topic. Since “sustainable living” is the theme of this fall, our destination, Long Branch Farm, an organic farm in the Appalachian Mountain range in Leicester in North Carolina, well answered the call.

After a three-hour drive from Atlanta, we arrived at Long Branch late at night. In the darkness, I gazed upon the starry sky so close that stars sparkled right across my head, forming the lovely belt of Milky Way which I used to only see on TVs. After helping each other settle in, we fell asleep in a chorus of crickets and frogs. Service started after lunch the next day with a tour around the farm. Sitting by the creek, we listened to Paul, founder of the farm,  talking about his passion for organic farming and bringing humans back to the nature. Walking along the berry shrubs, we freely picked up the ripe berries and ate them fresh. Christina, an herb specialist on the farm also introduced us several edible herbs and passed around their leaves right off the plants for us to taste. Everything tasted so fresh and amazing. Throughout the tour, I was amazed that these simple ingredients are so nutritious and accessible, yet food industries process them and raise their price to a degree that they become neither healthy nor affordable for everyone. While the nature provides humans a clear solution, we are still ironically mired in global food and health crises. It was the first lesson I learned on the farm.

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After the tour, we started the service with transplanting blueberry. Basically to transplant a blueberry, I gently pulled out tiny blueberries shoots trapped within a large shrub,  transported them and replanted them into a designated area, thus giving them more space to grow. I found it interesting that we put several layers of coffee grounds acquired from local coffee shops between the soil layers. Later I learned that this is a very organic and environmental friendly practice because both the plant gets more nutrition and the coffee ground doesn’t get wasted as a by-product. Apart from blueberry transplanting, I pruned apple trees. Both services were tiring especially for someone who had never done farming before like me. However, I really enjoyed the work, especially with the smell of coffee ground and newly cut tree branches surrounding me. This was the second lesson I learned here– how to live a sustainable life in practices. After the services, we cooked together, sat down, shared our experiences and played many fun games.

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The service went on for two full days, after which we toured around Asheville, a nearby major city and headed back to Agnes. The experience was extremely educational and rewarding for me because it not only brought me back to the nature for an active and healthy fall break, but more importantly, it educated me how people are making real differences to the world by deliberately living in an organic and environmentally friendly way. It also changed my perspectives on some of my daily necessities. In fact, I was inspired to consume less processed and packaged food as well as stop using cosmetic products containing a lot of artificial chemicals and opt for products featuring natural ingredients. I believe that these decisions can be better both for me and the Earth. Overall, the Alternative Service Experience gave a fantastic fall break, and I highly encourage you to take part in it if you become a Scottie looking for something fun and educational! If you are interested, make sure to check out https://www.agnesscott.edu/dos/leadership-and-service/community-engagement/alternative-service-experience/index.html for more information!

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