Ashley Taft, Armaa Johnson, and Danielle Kalbes show that the UT Organic Internship is NOT all work and no play! Photo by Jeff Martin.

UT Students Turn Organic Farm Learning Into CSA Shares

The Organic Farm Internship Program, at the University of Tennessee Instiutute of Agriculture, gives the university's students the opportunity to get their hands dirty in the garden. From January through August five interns complete a three-credit hour course while growing organic produce offered at the UT Farmers Market as well as through CSA shares.

For those of you not familiar with garden-speak, CSA is short for Community Supported Agriculture. People have the opportunity to purchase shares for the growing season, during which time they will receive a half bushel or more of fresh, organic produce each week.
 
“I learned all that I need to know to grow my own food organically,” says Bonnie Craighead who participated in the internship program last year. “You would learn the rules and regulations in class and then apply those everyday on the farm. That really engrains all the principles.”

This year’s crop of interns are Jordan Blanton, Callan Charron, Savannah Ramey, Elizabeth Stanford, and Christopher Thompson. In addition to the Organic and Sustainable Crop Production class, the interns will spend time each week planting, caring for, and harvesting a wide variety of organic produce at the UT East Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center – Organic Crops Unit in South Knoxville.

There they produce a variety of crops including leafy greens, kale, and collards in the cool seasons and tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons, potatoes, and others during the warm season. Annette Wszelaki, associate professor of plant sciences, said that the CSA began two years ago as a way to hopefully make the Organics Internship program self-sustaining. Although they haven’t quite reached that economic reality yet, the continued growth of the CSA and farmer’s market sales has brought the program much closer.

“We want to give the students a background in business as well as production and marketing,” Wszelaki said. “The average age of producers is increasing, so this program was started to train a new generation of growers in all aspects of being a farmer.”
 
One UT CSA share is one-half bushel of organic produce distributed weekly for 20 weeks (May-September) and costs $560 (or four payments: $145 due at sign up and each month until June). Visit here for more information and to purchase a share for this growing season.

Produce may also be purchased weekly at the UT Harvest Market stand as part of the Farmer’s Market held from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m., Wednesdays, starting May 13 and continuing through October 21 at the UT Gardens on Neyland Drive in Knoxville.