How do you see yourself making decisions about your own life beyond HTHMA? Do you see yourself following a life similar to anyone you met at an internship? Why or why not?
The modestly angsty teenager in me thinks a lot about my life after high school; I think about college and the possible lectures I'll be able to attend, the people I'll meet, the meal plans that include those gear-shifting cereal dispensers, and beyond. The biggest allure of post-high school and adult life for me is autonomy and independence. I can't wait and don't resonate with the subgenre of merchandise intended for the millennial and early Gen Z demographic splattered with mantras loathing what has been coined 'adulting', but maybe it's because I don't have to truly 'adult' yet (everything becomes a verb for millennial lingo!)... Being on internship and meeting so many cool people doing the type of things I'm interested in at the moment, though, has made me realize that the decisions made after high school can happen in ways you don't expect them to; there's room for change, flexibility, and room to be doing something you're passionate about -- given you seek or have access to the right resources. I've usually considered myself to be a pretty indecisive person, but I know more about what I want than I give myself credit for and I think working with people who treat me as an adult via internship has given me that personal responsibility and confidence to say what I mean and mean what I say. I'm trying to be a more opinionated person yet also give grace to some things and people around me, which I feel is achieved through insight and the type of experiences you have as an adult working with vastly different people with different points of knowledge and weaker points. From the outside and according to a contractor hired to erect fencing along the perimeter of the farm, the farm crew may look like a gaggle of eclectic vegan hippies, but they're all so different and most of them aren't even vegan, in fact, the taste of different semi-exotic meats has been a weirdly frequent topic of lunch discussion since my time here. I'd really love to have even just a sliver of the social and larger institutional awareness my mentor has about farming and ecology/earth sciences, plus the amazing monochromatic style they have. They offered me, informally, an internship over the summer, and I'd love to be able to do it, and shape my future decisions even more!
What lessons or experiences at your internship will you bring back to school to help you to further improve your academics?
It's been really helpful to see how an established farm gets projects done in a massively collaborative manner and also to see how they handle really devastating adversity. Like I mentioned maybe once before, in our mentor interview (pre-flood), Cheyanne said that the most challenging part of running a farm in their particular locale, and in any other floodplain region really, is the looming threat of a flood. But after coming back on Wednesday for the first time after the flood, they had already developed a very thorough flood response plan that was more thorough than the flood response plans you can find on the government's agricultural recommendations. They looked at their particular situation and recognized their only avenue for revenue before the flood -- the CSA box -- had issues and was doing a lot of heavy lifting in the money-making department. So now, they're planning on improving the chicken coop and making the bees produce honey, plus planting more perennial flowers that can be sold but also can help protect food crop if another flood happens by the flower beds' proposed location closer to the river. When I have a project I'm not so happy with, it's hard start over or scrap something because of the fear that I'm not going to be able to reach or surpass that pinnacle, but strangely, this experience has shown me that a willingness to improve and make things more efficient and/or high quality, starting over can provide an amazing opportunity, especially when you have a strong team behind you! I want to reassess my time management and what I allot my time to by seeing what works and what doesn't to try and what I'm passionate about and what I'm not to make for a successful last year and a half of high school. I think another thing I like about the way Wild Willow does things that will also follow me in my academics is their importance in a lot of their projects to social justice; one of the things about the CSA boxes is that they're priced to a point of inaccessibility to most people who live in the community and even to some of the people who work, volunteer, or intern there, so they're reassessing that with a more equitable lens.
Who is your mentor? Describe his or her life, education, career path and more.
My mentor is Cheyanne Piacenza and I feel really honored to have them as my mentor. They grew up in Las Vegas, Nevada not that hone into school, but found a love for food advocacy through their work with grassroots food sovereignty organizations like Food Not Bombs, Reclaiming Food, and other similar organizations, and interestingly enough, through subculture circles. They started taking agriculture classes at San Diego City College while being a barista with early liberating, unconventional hours. After taking agriculture classes with a really awesome new teacher, they decided to join Seeds @ City Urban Farm (San Diego City College's farm), and became the farm manager there. That occupied a great deal of their time, so they had to stop taking classes and was no longer a barista, so farming became their main gig. They explained something interesting to me in our interview: farming is one of those rare careers where experience in the field and in the profession can mean a great deal more than a degree in education, although that's not to say that farming isn't really at its center intellectually and politically stimulated and stimulating. After spending some time at Seeds and through the interconnectedness of the regenerative farming community of San Diego, one of their friends left a job at Wild Willow Farms for them and they were hired, eventually moving up to the position of farm manager -- where they are today. They make a big point to separate their work from home life, which can be difficult as a farmer with anxiety always thinking about seasons, weather, crop resilience, etc. outside of their working hours, but in their free time they read a lot of sci-fi and enjoy watching movies and loves music too. They have been in a couple of bands throughout their life, which his adds another level of inspiration and badassery to them. They enjoy teaching people, instating new techniques, efficacy, cumulation and tandems, and so much more, which can be observed as passions via their beautiful workings on the farm. Today was my first day back on the farm and I was really interested to see how they dealt with adversity, that they had expressed was the biggest obstacle the farm has had to deal with to varying degrees in the past, and they seemed so calm yet efficient and clear headed in how to deal with it!
What are social interactions like in your workplace? Do people spend a lot of time socializing? Are people isolated, doing their own things? Lots of collaboration on work projects? Not much collaboration? How does the social dynamic impact or reflect the organization's work?
Although it's very cliche to say, Wild Willow Farms feels like a family. For one, there's an age discontinuity with all the farmers (which seems to reflect the diversity of the farming community and who America's small-scale farmers are today) and a vibe between coworkers that almost replicates familial ties -- big brother, cool aunt, wise grandpa. But the most family-like thing is the way everyone's role is made to help support the common good, which seems to me to be a contemporary virtue that exists exclusively in the homes of most. There's the separation of the true "common good" virtue in the workplace; in a handful of other career spheres, the law of competition inspires anxiety and fuels workers' fears of being obsolete, and, in return, a facet of worker's alienation starts to pit workers against workers in the hopes of an individual's capital acruement (there's a different connection to labor when it's the physical body that can become obsolete with overuse or abuse, I will say). A farmer's connection to the means of production is immense -- the fruits of their labor are not analogous but literal, tangible, and tasteable! In our interview, my mentor talked briefly about how gardening and farming is a hobby common in left-y circles that promote emphasis on community and the anti-capitalist wave of food justice; fighting monopolies is common in agriculture (grrr, we hate Big Ag!!) and the ideological frameworks previously excluded from most farming circles are now at the frontlines of regenerative farming, also inspired by climate change, herbal medicine, and land stewardship. This aspect of ideology makes farming a big thing about community and praxis for some of the people who work at Wild Willow as opposed to being solely a job. Everyone is responsible for doing their part which, in totality, comes together and makes the farm run, but everyone is also very responsible in helping everyone else. There's a lot of beauty in that, but teamwork is an art -- maybe not in the way a group project is completed with an elitist division of labor...
Wild Willow farms flooded! No one is able to go on-site, so that leaves me to work remotely. In the email letting me know about the state of the farm, my mentor suggested part of my remote work for this week could be researching farming in floodplains with a big "LOL" next to that suggestion (side note: I'm so disarmed when people aren't really formal in emails, but purely disarmed in a way that lifts the weight from my shoulders and adds character to the other party; email is slowly becoming more casual and I'm all for it). So, for the next week, I'll be at home asynchronously figuring out what a typical, non-flooded field trip to the farm looks like and going over the interview I did last week, plus I'll now be researching how urban and farm designs deal with floods. I enrolled in an edX course about sustainable design and another one about the intersection between philosophy, science, and the search for meaning so those are going to be something to do, although the state of my project -- outreach to small regenerative farms to help stock HTHMA's community fridge -- isn't looking too bright, so I'll be working more on that, too.
Here's a quick little piece about the things I've learned about floodplains and farming today and yesterday: California presents strange dichotomies everywhere. We've got coast and dry deserts, Kardashians, Calabasas, and general exuberant wealth, yet 30% of the nation's homeless population. We also cyclically oscillate between drought and its subsequent cataclysmic dryness (usually resulting in devastating wildfires) to extreme flooding, but not often flooding to the degree of what we've been seeing since the day after Christmas. This is what goes down after the credits roll on a Hallmark Christmas movie and after the big-time NYC lawyer settles down with her childhood best friend in their hometown: ~94 trillion liters of water dump everywhere from an atmospheric river. An atmospheric river is a region within the Earth's atmosphere (so above ground!) usually between 250 to 375 feet wide that's able to hold moisture and particles, courtesy of the tropics, and move water thousands of miles with the weather. Atmospheric rivers are said to be able to hold 15 times the volume of the Mississippi River, which you probably know is the largest river in the US! (Space.com, NASA satellite view shows California's soaked start to 2023). It's an unfathomable concept, to me at least, but they're capable of much destruction. Dichotomies seem to be only further exasperated by climate change. As the atmosphere has surpassed the 1 degree Celsius threshold many scientists have warned about (we're at about 1.3 Celsius), the atmosphere is able to hold more moisture because, with more heat, evaporation rates increase and transform more liquid molecules into a vapor state, meaning the atmosphere can hold and drop heavier amounts of rainfall at once (The Washington Post, How Climate Change Will Make Atmospheric Rivers Worse). So why would you build infrastructure in a floodplain? Floodplains are created by the depositing of soil-forming materials from rivers and floods, making for really fertile soil and also aquifers that provide bank filtration. Floodplains are also really beneficial when there's a flood because it makes for a piece of land for floodwater to be able to disperse among, double acting as a recharge area for groundwater. Farms are strategically placed in floodplains because of their fertile soil and the access to water for irrigation. The image above shows Wild Willow Farms as the little blue pin, conveying its floodplain location. For the most part, though, we've been building infrastructure and urban sprawl around rivers and within flood susceptible areas because we build infrastructure to try and control the water. Dams and levees are used to build barriers to water, creating a sense of security for infrastructure built within their limits. When unforeseen amounts of water are dumped from the sky as they are now, water is no longer within the jurisdiction of levees and dams but inundates them and floods sprawling areas and farms. There's an aspect of environmental justice with floodplains and urban planning. People who live in more susceptible regions are more likely to be more socioeconomically disadvantaged and a study for the state of Nebraska found a high percentage of people living in Nebraska floodplain areas to be Hispanic or Latine (asfpm-library.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/Website/CON/G2_Paine.pdf)
How do you see yourself growing or changing over the course of your internship?
When people ask me what I want to study or what I'm interested in academically, I usually say agroecology, "something related to sustainability", or humanities. I think there's more security felt when you see a career or study path you're interested in and how it's panned out for someone else. I did my mentor interview on Thursday (pretty early!) and that was really eye-opening in regards to educational journeys and general insight on the state of the lefty, hardcore, vegan, regenerative farming, and agroecological subcultures of San Diego.
I can't stop thinking about what the farm manager at school, Liana, said about how her family believed farming to be a career path that lacked any academic rigor, to which she rebutted, saying was completely untrue. Prestige has always plagued my mind; upward mobility and the accruement of generational wealth being the reason for so many of my anxieties but also the reason for my unfounded absurdist-optimism. It always felt that, although my family pushes me to pursue whatever it is I'm interested in, that it was unfathomable for me to pursue a job title with anything short of 3 syllables. I feel like after this experience, it will feel like I'll have more weight in my statement that I might want to be a farmer. This internship is, in big part, meant to make us think about what we want to pursue after high school, which I think has been made more clear for me although, it's only the second week (or really, the first week for me) so I'm excited to see more solidification or maybe even question-imposed confrontation about post-high school aspirations. As one of the older interns pointed out, it's cruel to ask a kid of 18 years of age to decide what they'll dedicate their lives to as much as it's cruel to ask an older person to completely adhere to that thing they picked at 18. Of course, the paradigmatic path of matriculation romanticizes the virtue of linearity, but as I've grown up, I've realized a good handful of the people I admire haven't adhered to the canonical, immense debt-falling-into-in-the-name-of-a-higher-education and have thrived in passion or personal definitions of success despite (or maybe with respects to the more "chaotic" path). I think my internship is making me reckon with success. It's an ever-changing definition, is it not? It seems will never feel completely successful but by defining what it would look like to be successful is just another means of replicating modes of production, but that's just Louis Althusser talking. The nature and nature of which my internship is directly involved with and in is changing the way I view my local community and gives me hope for the future of farming in urban areas but also a weird, uncomfortable feeling sometimes. There's a socioeconomic discrepancy in access to nature AND natural food, which is apparent in a couple legs of Wild Willow Farms' operations. Although they're located in the Tijuana River Valley, most of the people who attend workshops, volunteer hours, or are subscribed to the CSA box aren't from the South Bay/south county community. There's a misconception that I and many others have/had, which irrevocably paints the agricultural system as being and needing to be far removed from our everyday lives, but close for privileged sake. Yeah, you look at the Central Valley or pass the god-awfully pungent town of Gilroy, California and admire the vast rows of produce, maybe shudder at the labor practices but go along with your life afterwards. The sheer amount of small-scale farming is obscured by corporate monopoly and a globalized food system, is it not? Maybe that's another facet of change: consciousness.
(another quick way I've changed: I've gotten more comfortable in talking with people who work at Wild Willow and people who come and volunteer, plus, I've been able to adopt a couple bits of lingo that seemed so intangible on the first day)
Internship project! The entire farm is essentially a compilation of a million little projects, so it seem that everyday I'll be assisting in completing a couple projects, which is cool and making me realize how much I like working to finish a bunch of little projects as opposed to a big, looming project, as I've done a lot in my HTH career (no tea, no shade though, it's an interesting way to learn). Today, for example, we weeded something called nutsedge, a pesky little weed with an attached nut-bean thing that burrows and respawns really easily. After that, we planted celery in that bed 16-inches apart. I never realized how important spacing is in farming, but now I do; as someone lacking good spatial awareness, this importance brings minor anxiety. I helped make the CSA bags using some of the produce I helped harvest and clean yesterday, and was lucky enough to take a beautifully bountiful bag home for myself. Then we made beds for the soon-to-be strawberry field, but had some issues with the irrigation line so we had to undo some laborious work.
For my final final project, my mentor Cheyanne has proposed that I try and reach out to other local farms (fun fact: San Diego has the most small farms in the nation!) to get produce to fill the HTH community fridge my group and I made last year for a similarly-aligned food justice project. She's also encouraging and supporting me in learning to compost at home, an interest I expressed in some of our email correspondence. I'm really enjoying this internship thus far and am solidifying my interest in agroecology and food + environmental justice everyday!
Most Saturday mornings, tis a rare sight to see me up before 11 am (I know, yikes!) but today I was up at 6 am pressing extra-dark, Trader Joe's coffee grounds in my family's communal French press, anticipating the 2 hour and 20-minute commute to the Tijuana River Valley region ahead of me. I was less nervous about actually being there than about the commute, which is really interesting and something the Hisami of even 6 months ago wouldn't expect. I mean, I would expect to be nervous about the commute but I'd also be debilitatingly anxious about being there without anyone I knew. I don't know what's changed, but it feels good to know I'm more capable of change these days, an essential feat in countering my pretty often feeling of stuckness. During introductions, before we got into the work, we were prompted to say our names and the weed we hate the most. Most people said stinging nettle, a fair contender given its very palpable stinging properties (almost bee-sting like, sometimes), but my mind raced as I tried to think of the seemingly minimal weeding experiences I've had. It escaped -- the hours of weeding I did for common work at TMS and the pounds of weeds I'd been able to extract from the earth, like the asparagus and the things around the cruciferous beds. Instead, I called back to that one Friday morning during the summer of 2021 when my grandma and I pulled thistles in suburban Ohio for some odd hours, which inspired me to profess, "My name is Hisami and I'm not a big fan of what my grandparents call thistles", using them (grandparents) as a cop-out just in case that wasn't the technical name for that type of weed -- but really the lines between technical and general are blurred in the farming discipline. The leader of the volunteer service that day pointed behind me and asked if I was offended by that type of thistle too, apparently a very nutritionally-profound plant. I was dumbfounded and said that I guessed not, but that was a bit awkward and made me feel bad about my first impression. After that we got into the nitty-gritty weeding and it felt really good. There's something mindfully peaceful about weeding alone in your mind and with your hands dry yet nourished with the nitrogen-rich soil. Of course, our society loves a good gardening analogy that's essentially root-cause analyses, but it's not until you're in that position of trying to pull from the root do you have an epiphany and watershed moment of what you want in life or what you've lost.
I've known about High Tech High schools' internship program since middle school, so I've rummanated about what I might end up doing for a while -- at the same time as my aspirations and passions have ebbed and flowed. At one point, the idea of an international internship was really attractive as an experience, but then I realized I should've planned way farther in advance for something like that. Instead, I conducted my internship application process pretty late and asynchronously in Vermont, only reaching out to two different organizations: one local yet New England-started record shop and one at Wild Willow Farms, showcasing the two most prevalent passions I have at the moment. Wild Willow panned out better and seems to be more in line with work I've already done and the type of work I'm more interested in pursuing, although it points to a certain idea that music is something I should put in my back pocket as opposed to as a vocation, which seems like it might become microcosmic in my career and post-high school life.
I'm really looking forward to being on a local farm, though, because the globalized nature of the food system can make agricultural operations seem so far removed from my contextual life, even though California produces "over a third of the country’s vegetables and three-quarters of the country’s fruits and nuts" (USDA ERS numbers published as of September 1, 2022) and the compounding nature of big systems being a compilation of smaller-scale systems is deeply important in our food systems. The biggest concern I have about internship is the transportation aspect; although I'm stubborn as a mule, I haven't convinced my parents to let me learn how to drive yet, so I'll have to use public transport to get to and fro -- an estimated 2 hour and 20 minute commute each way! Maybe that points to how poorly our city is planned, because a car ride is 1/5 of that time. Tisk tisk. But I enjoy having commute time to listen to music and read so there's that! In terms of my project, I think I want to be able to understand how education about the food system is a crucial part in building sustainable food systems, despite education being overlooked as a tool a lot of the time. I'm also excited to do farm-related work again, as I did in the fall and found to really enjoy.