By Carli Stuart, University of Kentucky Intern 

When I was first offered an internship at GreenHouse17, I was extremely intimidated. I had no experience working with victims of domestic violence, and I was worried that I would not be able to connect or help clients in a meaningful way. I wanted to branch out in my social work experience, but I was worried that my lack of experience would be more of a burden than an asset.

A place to learn and grow.

I soon found that GreenHouse17 was an amazing place to learn, gain experience, and ultimately grow. I was placed as an intern working through the farm stipend program, and the metaphor of personal growth being seen through plant growth on the farm was quickly seen through both me and the clients. Being in the high tunnels and greenhouses with the clients took away the pressure of a professional social work setting. When I spoke to the women in the shelter, I was kind of intimidated because I did not want to bother anyone while they were in their own home trying to relax. Planting with clients was the first time that I felt I was able to be myself and really build meaningful relationships with the women I was working with.

Just like life, the work isn’t always pretty flowers and wonderful bonding.

Just like life, the work at GreenHouse17 isn’t always pretty flowers and wonderful bonding. Sometimes we are shoveling compost, or even spreading chicken manure throughout the flower beds. This work can be hard and exhausting, but you will never hear any complaints from the clients. The work on the farm has been so inspiring as each person is willing to play their part and work hard to make the beautiful flowers of the farm possible. I have learned that sometimes the best experiences are the hard ones, and I have learned so much about myself through building relationships with these women.

Working through nature also allows you to work on yourself.

Throughout the last two months, I have learned so many new skills, both in social work and in agriculture. We have prepared beds, recovered the plastic on the high tunnels, planted so many plants, and even worked with a volunteer group all the way from Delaware. While this has not been the most traditional practicum, it has been the most beneficial placement for me. I have learned about the healing properties of the earth, and how working through nature also allows you to work on yourself. I have learned the value of hard work, and I have seen how the power of having someone believe in you makes all the difference in improving your life. I have learned more from the staff and the residents of the shelter than I could ever hope to teach them.