I have always had an intense love for the outdoors. Some of my earliest memories include my dad and I going on fishing trips to the local lake and family camping trips. Although I did not know it then, those experiences would shape who I am today. As I grew older, I found myself spending more and more time alone in nature and wondering about how it all worked. I was fascinated by the way in which every organism could provide for itself by what was available in nature, and by watching and pondering, I found myself enthralled with gardening and eventually sustainable agriculture.
|Blake Mcwatters (left) remembers how early fishing and
camping trips with his family established a deep love for nature
and the outdoors.
|A rustic tent on an organic farm in Sparta, Mich.:
Blake Mcwatters’ home for two summers.
The last two years of high school I realized I wanted to learn as much as I could about sustainable agriculture and self-reliance. I secured an internship on a local organic farm, moved out there for two seasons, and dove into the world of sustainable agriculture. Those two summers inspired me to study ecology and biodiversity and how they influenced crop production. I learned how certain carnivorous insects such as ladybugs are beneficial because they eat herbivorous bugs like aphids. Plant interactions, too, I discovered, can benefit each other in an agricultural environment: marigolds and tomatoes, for example, may repel harmful pests. Upon further research I discovered that although marigolds are said to repel certain nematodes and are a common companion plant, it is not confirmed scientifically. Even so, this is a relevant topic and would be an interesting area for future study.
When I heard about the internships available to students at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, especially the ones related to agriculture, I knew I had to take advantage of the opportunity. Now, as an intern on the Campus Farm, I am excited to not only be doing what I love, but to be surrounded by incredibly knowledgeable people that further my understanding of agriculture and the environment.
Not only has my hands-on experience on the farm already taught me a lot, but my interactions with other interns and staff in various other areas of the gardens and Arboretum have taught me more than I could have wished for. The all-intern work days and activities are a great learning and bonding experience that expose me to new places, people, and plants that I would not experience on the farm.
|A native colombine flower. Mcwatters
says he learned about this plant while
participating in an invasive-weed pull
For example, interns and staff members went out into the trails of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens for an invasive species pull. That experience yielded insights about harmful invasive plants as well as the opportunity to identify many native wildflowers, several of which I had never seen before. One flower I was particularly fascinated by was the native columbine, which is a beautiful red/pink flower that I later learned was one of the few native wildflowers that is pollinated by hummingbirds. Learning about plants, agricultural or not, is always a pleasure. I cannot wait to see what the rest of the summer has in store.
Blake Mcwatters is one of the Campus Farm interns this summer. He’s currently undeclared in his major but is planning a double major in Program in the Environment and Evolutionary Biology, Ecology, and Biodiversity. Blake is fascinated with sustainable agriculture and has spent the last two summers living in a tent as an intern on Earthkeeper Farm, an organic farm in Sparta, Michigan. He loves all aspects of sustainable farming, but is particularly fond of tomatoes and fruit trees. In his free time, Blake likes to learn about wild edible plants and forage for what he already knows. During summer you can often find him canning vegetables and jamming fruits for use throughout the year. Alongside plants, Blake loves to hike, cook, and play and listen to music. Blake’s internship is made possible by the Porter Family Foundation, which supports interns who manage the Campus Farm at Matthaei Botanical Gardens.