A summer on the farm opens intern’s eyes to possibilities
Kaycie Blankenship ’24 has given a lot of thought to how modern humanity relates to the natural world.
“The culture of disposability and fast fashion and all of those things really influence the way that we interact with the environment,” she said. “It disconnects us from nature. It’s affecting the planet and in turn affecting us as well.”
In contrast, Blankenship, a double major in Earth and environmental science (EES) and philosophy with a minor in environmental humanities, has sought connection with nature directly. Almost immediately upon arriving on campus as a sophomore after a year of remote learning during COVID-19, she began working on the Furman Farm as an intern for The Shi Institute for Sustainable Communities, learning about self-sustaining and farm-to-fork methods.
Although planting, harvesting, fertilizing and tilling the farm was a novel experience, “I liked working outdoors,” she said. “I had never done any sort of manual labor like that before, so it was very different from anything I had been used to. It wasn’t until coming to Furman that I realized that I could make a career out of it.”
Practical experience on the farm
Blankenship has been getting more dirt under her fingernails during Summer 2023, as an intern for Rambling Rosa Farm in Pickens County, South Carolina. The owners – first-time farmers Brittany Arsiniega, a former assistant professor of politics and international affairs at Furman, and her husband, Mike – started the seven-acre farm in 2020 to grow organic produce and fruit, care for rescued and adopted animals and provide educational programs.
“I’ve known Kaycie has always been interested in environmental stewardship and that she wanted to combine and apply her EES major and humanities minor to that interest,” said Kim. “So now, she has gotten great firsthand experience in a way that allows for her to apply her academic studies practically. She’s gained exposure to a new industry, as well as people in that industry, that positions her better to pursue it further should she wish.”
“I really love it,” Blankenship said. “Day to day, you’re doing different tasks; it changes depending on what needs to be done at the farm. I love the fast pace and the independence of it, and just being around the animals, being out in nature – it’s very calming and lovely.”
‘I have what it takes’
Beyond regular chores like caring for the animals and plants, the intern’s summer projects include constructing high tunnels, greenhouse-like structures that allow farmers to control weather conditions, extend the growing season and water plants using drip irrigation. Blankenship is also creating an ecosystem enrichment plan for the farm’s koi pond, which she plans to present in Spring 2024 at Furman Engaged, a daylong campuswide celebration of engaged learning experiences.
Internships are not only integral to The Furman Advantage – an educational framework that provides every student an individualized educational pathway and opportunities for high-impact learning experiences – they also enhance a modern liberal arts and sciences education, said Kim.
“Engaged experiences like that or other comparable ones – like undergraduate research and study away – help provide students with a more holistic education and grounding to help them grow and cultivate their personal and professional capacities,” she said. “Without The Furman Advantage, many students may very well not be able to access such engaged experiences.”
The experience has also made Blankenship more certain on her academic and professional path – whether it’s paved or unpaved.
“Doing this has really proven to me that I have what it takes to work outdoors,” said Blankenship, who lists forest ranger as one possible career. “I don’t mind the dirt or the bugs. I like getting my hands dirty.”