Spring came late this year at Chert Hollow Farm in central Missouri. Joanna Reuter ’00 and her husband, Eric—who founded the homestead farm in 2007 to focus on sustainable, quality food production for their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) members and themselves—had hoped to be seeding and planting a diverse array of vegetables during the time they hosted two Carleton students for a 10-day externship in late March. But, as farmers know, the weather doesn’t always cooperate.
Carleton’s Externship program pairs students with alumni and parent volunteers who work in fields the students wish to explore. The students accompany their hosts to their workplaces for one to four weeks, allowing for quality observation, as well as hands-on experience.
“Because we had some cold, rainy weather, we had more time to spend inside talking through the nitty-gritty of how we plan and manage crop rotations, as well as the more detailed finances of the business,” says Reuter. Turns out those conversations are what Sarah Goldman ’17 (West Hartford, Conn.) values most about the experience she shared with fellow extern, Brynna Mering ’16 (Baraboo, Wis.).
“Joanna and Eric are by far the most knowledgeable farmers I’ve ever met, and I admire how they live intentionally, growing and raising almost all their own food and taking care of their land,” says Goldman, who plans to pursue a career in sustainable farming, food, and public policy. “We talked about many different topics, including genetically modified food, Obamacare, Carleton courses, and so much more. And being able to participate in their daily routines—waking up early, cooking meals from scratch with produce, meat, and poultry that had been grown, raised, and butchered on the farm, reading seed catalogs together at night—helped me understand not only the effort, but also the reward that comes with producing one’s own food.”
There were plenty of tasks for the students to help with on the 40-acre farm: transplanting asparagus and cabbage plants, felling trees, cutting firewood, chipping branches to make mulch for paths, boiling maple syrup, collecting eggs from the chicken coops, feeding the goats, and building a fence to enclose new fields. They also visited several local farms to compare different farming models.
At a lunch toward the end of their stay the students asked their hosts a memorable question: If you could be Secretary of Agriculture, what would you do to change the food system? “So we discussed that for a while,” says Reuter. “Most Carleton students have lots of opportunities and potential to change things with their future careers. It’s interesting to hear what they’re thinking. We joked that maybe one of them will become Secretary of Agriculture someday. But whatever trajectory they’re on, we all eat food. It was fun to plant some ideas in their heads about the decisions they can make for sourcing food and growing it.”
The Career Center is aggressively collecting more externship opportunities for Carleton students with help from the Parents Advisory Council, which has pledged to create 100 new externships for the 2014–15 academic year.
Host with the Most
When the Career Center launched its pilot externship program in December 2008, Paul Van Valkenburg ’82 stepped up to volunteer as the first externship host. For two weeks, four Carleton students lived with Van Valkenburg and his wife and commuted with him to his Wall Street–based consulting firm, Mortgage Industry Advisory Corporation (MIAC).
“We connected with Paul in a way that goes beyond just having an experience at his company,” says Jessica “Jae Jae” Brooks ’09, one of the four original externs (now a senior recruiter with OfficeTeam HealthCare). “I’m so grateful for the experience he gave us. The externship program helps Carls meet Carls and gain real-world insight into their professional lives.”
The Career Center has built on that successful pilot ever since, facilitating externships for more than 50 students in 2013-14—a number they aim to double in the year ahead. Van Valkenburg remains one of the program’s most dedicated volunteers, serving as an externship host seven times to date and mentoring three to six students per externship.