While living in Tel Aviv from October 2009 to August 2010, I volunteered as a language tutor at the Ironi Yud Alef high school. Through in-class and one-on-one after school sessions, my task was to help students prepare for their English language exam at the end of their fourth year. Aside from maintaining the students’ focus, the greatest challenge was not having the budget for sufficient teaching materials. Working with the other tutors and the school’s academic coordinator, we devised innovative methods of teaching without books. From this experience, I learned that mutual respect is pinnacle to an effective student-teacher relationship and that only after this mutual respect is established will the student focus and learn new material.
I discovered this organization (WWOOF) after I graduated from Brandeis University in May 2009. Essentially, WWOOF is an international network of organic farms that are looking for temporary labor in exchange for accommodation, food, and education. The concept behind the organization is to foster mutually beneficial relationships in small farming communities and spread the understanding of organic agriculture through hands-on experience.
My first farm stay was over the summer of 2009 on a small family-owned organic farm on the side of a mountain between two state parks in central New Hampshire. This was an amazing experience. Over my two-month stay, I assisted with all aspects of farm production. On a typical day, I would first bring the horses, sheep, and piglets feed and water. After a quick breakfast of toast, coffee, and fresh organic eggs from the neighbors’ chickens, I would review the day’s objectives while waiting for the other workers to arrive. With full force, we would head out into the fields and harvest, plant, or weed until lunch around 1PM. After eating and a brief siesta, we would congregate in the shop to plan our afternoon. On days before farmers markets or CSA orders, we would focus on harvesting in the late afternoon so the produce was fresh for sale. The other workers would depart around 6PM and I would help finish the household chores and prepare dinner before dusk. In the evenings, we would unwind with a bottle of home-brewed hard apple cider.
The farm lifestyle taught me the simple pleasures of rural life. The fresh water stream that babbled through the fields was a heavenly reprieve from baking in the field during the day’s work. All meals were prepared on a 100 year old wood burning stove and consisted of homegrown produce fresher than any store-bought alternative. Likewise, the hardships of living directly in the vein of our natural environment were apparent; an outbreak of a spore called late blight wrought havoc throughout New England and reduced fields of potatoes and tomatoes to black fungal mush. Overall, my experience on the farm was deeply fulfilling and solidified many of my philosophical inquiries on the role of man in nature.
For my second farm stay, I wanted to celebrate the completion of my master’s degree and indulge my passion for wine. I wanted to explore more of Italy since my first visit to Sicily in 2007, and I knew that September is harvest time for vineyards in the northern hemisphere. This lead me to a small bio agritourismo in the village of Cessole in the Province of Asti, part of the Piedmont region. The opportunity to take part in the annual grape harvest, a tradition that is as old as the region itself, in a land with a cultural history as rich as risotto, was too enticing to pass up.
Tenuta Antica (meaning old estate) is a small family-owned and operated restaurant, bed & breakfast, organic vineyard, and sanctuary of regional culture. The guest house and cellar was restored out of the ruins of a two hundred year old farmhouse. The proprietors have been accommodating WWOOFers for nearly a decade and seemed to have the practice of acclimating new arrivals down to a science; during my seven-week stay, thirteen other workers from seven countries passed through the signature arch of the Busdone farmhouse.
The work at Tenuta Antica was quite different from my first farming experience. Projects included: planting a field of strawberries (fragole), harvesting hazelnuts (nocciole of the Piemonte region are considered the finest in the world), picking figs (fichi), maintaining the herb garden (cultivated in the Fukuoka style), assisting with restaurant service, and producing/pasteurizing/packaging various jams (extra), juices (succhi), and other specialties. The real highlight, of course, was the three grape harvests (barbera, dolcetto, and pino nero). In accordance with regional law, derived largely from cultural tradition, the grapes must be picked by hand. The timing of the grape harvest–as with the different steps of wine production itself–was determined by equal parts scientific data and cultural lore.
Overall, the experience of taking part in this traditional practice in the region of its cultural origin was mystifying. I would go back tomorrow.
In my sophomore year at Brandeis University, I volunteered as a language tutor as part of the Waltham Group‘s LaCE program. The program paired tutors with non-American born students from the John F. Kennedy Middle School in Waltham. My student, Alvin, age 13, was born in Kampala, Uganda, moved to the US at a young age, and requested to take part in the program to better understand American culture and improve his written and spoken language skills. Fellow undergraduates majoring in Education Studies coordinated the program and instructed the tutors on effective teaching methods for group and individual activities. Although the classroom setting sometimes became chaotic, the tutors and advisors maintained an impressive level of professionalism and kept the students hungry for more.
Scouting was my most influential organization outside of school during my childhood. I entered Cub Scouts at age 5, Boy Scouts at age 11, and I finally obtained the rank of Eagle Scout at age 17. The tenets of Scouting were established by the British Lieutenant-General, artist, and writer Robert Baden-Powell in his book Aids to Scouting in 1903. One of the esteemed values of the Scouting philosophy is the internalized sense of obligation toward one’s community. Thusly, in order to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout, the highest rank in Scouting, one must coordinate and execute a community service project.
2004 was an election year, and though I was not of voting age, I felt compelled to get involved. Over several months leading up to the state of New Jersey’s registration deadline, I organized and carried out a voter registration drive in my hometown. Obtaining the necessary registration materials required the coordination of the Bergen County Board of Elections, the Superintendent of Elections, and the New Jersey Division of Elections. After tabling in multiple locations around town, each appealing to distinct localized demographic groups, I had distributed over 100 voter registration forms. Although, there is no way of knowing the exact impact of my efforts, I did raise awareness of a relevant issue that effected the community and the nation at large. On May 22, 2005, I was awarded the rank of Eagle Scout.Voter Registration Drive Article (Suburban News, September 2004)
Eagle Scout Award Acceptance Speech (May 22, 2005)