International students help at Volunteer Farm

By Katie Demeria

WOODSTOCK — When Sandy Burner, senior intern with Shenandoah County’s Volunteer Farm, asked the group of around 20 students where they were from, the responses included Mexico, Belgium, Russia and Japan.

Camp Up with People, a nonprofit organization based out of Harrisonburg, brought students to the farm for the second time this year in order to show them “the importance of helping other people,” counselor Aniek Luyt, 22, of the Netherlands said.

“A lot of the kids have never done volunteer work,” Luyt said. “They learn a lot when they come here.”

Serving high school students between the ages of 13 and 17, counselor Raymundo Rodriguez, 21, of Mexico, said the students not only learn about the importance of giving back to the community, but they also learn about other cultures.

The camp includes time spent working in the performance arts, an aspect that Michèle Baumann, 15, of Switzerland, and Etal Naor, 15, of Israel, said attracted them to the program. Baumann has experience gardening, but Naor does not.

“It’s nice to know that we’re helping people who need help, though,” Naor said.

Baumann and Naor were planting cabbages, along with half of their group, while the other half picked blackberries.

Anton Rehn, 16, of Sweden, was among the group of students picking blackberries. He said he is used to picking blueberries back home, but the prickles on the blackberry bushes took him by surprise.

“I really like it,” Rehn said of the work he and his fellow campers were doing. “It’s not much effort for me, but it will help a lot of other people.”

The students were providing a great deal of help to the farm, as well. Founder Bob Blair said that at the beginning of the year they calculated that around 4,000 volunteers would be needed to harvest and tend to the produce.

So far, though, they have only had about 700 volunteers.

“It’s good for them because they’re learning where their food comes from,” Blair said. “There are even some adults that come out here that don’t know the difference between a rock and a potato.”

The cabbage the group was planting will be harvested in the fall, Blair said. The blackberries will go toward many of the agencies the farm serves, such as its largest, the Blue Ridge Food Bank.

Madison Maxwell, 16, of Atlanta, Georgia, does not have much experience on a farm, but she does enjoy giving back when she can.

“We should always help people,” Maxwell said. “You need to help people, really, so we can all survive.”

Burner walked around the group of students planting cabbage, explaining what to do, but soon they started to help each other, dictating how to plant them properly.

When presenting to the group, Burner pointed out that the farm not only grows produce, but it grows volunteers as well.

“We’re creating a serving heart,” Burner said.

To find out more about the farm, or to volunteer, go to http://www.volunteerfarm.org.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com