by Tiff and Hanna from the University of Missouri

Service and volunteerism is, by definition, working to better communities and lives around you. What we sometimes forget is how cyclical that spirit is, and how much getting out and giving can end up giving back. Mizzou Alternative Breaks (MAB) is one of the biggest organizations on University of Missouri’s campus sending out across the United States for a week to sites in Washington D.C., San Antonio, and Lexington.

MAB, at its core, is dedicated to students serving others. We name ourselves. We drive in vans. We wear a lot of flannel.

Did we mention it’s during our Spring Break?

Planning for our week of service started in the fall semester. The MAB Lexington trip named itself Farm(ily) in a blaze of inspiration during a lunchtime meeting on campus. We signed up to bring snacks, we discussed our fear of farming, and we bonded over a love of Beyoncé and feminism.

Nothing could prepare us for the magic of service itself. GreenHouse17 immediately felt like an incredibly special place. Our (magnificent shero) site host Jessica welcomed us into a space pulsing with energy. We were bewildered with the possibility of it all. You mean to tell us that you’re going to let 11 college-aged strangers come in and dig around in the tracts of lands that grow your vegetables? You’re going to let us plant onions you will later sell to surrounding counties?

But Jessica [our farm and family advocate] was game for it, and we were too.

As students, we don’t often get the chance to check out from essay writing and studying and work and meetings and job applications and going to class to get outside without feeling guilty. The idea of “I’m going to spend four hours with my hands in the dirt while I plant some carrots that may or may not be edible products in two and a half months” is a foreign one. But here, on a rolling hill in Kentucky, we got to do exactly that.

Monday was our first day of service.

We tumbled out of the vans and trekked out to the garage, shivering in the 20 degree weather. And surprisingly enough, that’s when the real magic started. With an efficiency that surprised even our most task-minded, we cleared, cleaned and reorganized the entire garage in about two hours. Old slimy (we didn’t investigate that too much) plastic coverings were thrown out, bee boxes were stacked, and stories about nose piercing were exchanged. Bodies intuitively gravitated toward where they were needed to move an old deep freezer, fold a tarp.

Service isn’t just about organizing mason jars or pruning raspberry bushes. It can be as simple as bringing a smile to a child’s face. Two of our participants, Rivu and Tiffany, volunteered to spend two hours in CO-OP, short for cooperative, an early childhood learning program where they were able to interact with the younger residents of GreenHouse17.

When 1:30 p.m. rolled around, the kids charged in and the jumping and screaming began. A small orange room bursting with the energy of 2- and 3-year-olds, we soon found was equipped with all the toys and puzzles any youngin’ could dream of! Tiffany became a zombie and chased the kids around while Rivu played with puzzles with one of the quieter kids. What we found truly amazing was witnessing the level of trust grow as the children became more comfortable with their visitors.

“One of the younger girls would not say a word to me,” said Tiffany. “She would just quietly play with her puzzles while the other kids were running around. Eventually, as time went on, she was hugging me and asking me to follow and play with her. I thought that was beautiful how she easily opened up to me and was able to trust me in such a short period of time.”

The kids were attracted to the farming too, and one resident in particular decided to offer his hands too. Radiating the energy of a five-year-old, this youngster weeded and shoveled newly composted dirt on top of the beds, despite the fact that most of it landed beside the actual bed itself.

There’s something about feeling the Earth’s dirt between your fingers.

Spending most of our time riding in cars and walking on sidewalks, we normally don’t get the opportunity to interact with Mother Nature. But she’s here. And she’s breathing beneath our feet, giving life to our world and sending this positive energy to our souls. As some of us weeded the flower bed’s that make up GreenHouse17’s backyard, we came to the conclusion that nature is so much bigger than us. The Earth brings us humans together because we collectively reside within her loving arms.

You see, it’s not just about the end product when it comes to farming. It’s about the process. It’s about the actions we take in order to get those first signs of life to emerge from the dirt. It’s about fact that farming brings individuals together and creates this silent communication between the Earth and you.

GreenHouse17, thank you for sharing your space with us. We have three more days of service, and we hope we can spread a little bit of our own magic during that time. Growing vegetables takes time, but good energy doesn’t have to. With so much magical productivity on the first day, we can’t wait to see what the rest of the week has in store.

Mizzou Alternative Breaks focus on an issue area: women’s advocacy, children, homelessness, LGBTQ advocacy, homelessness. MAB has expanded from 17 trips in 2010 to 69 trips in the 2013-14 school year: 13 winter break trips, one Thanksgiving trip, three international trips and 52 spring trips. You can learn more about the program here.

P.S. We really liked the horses too!