A Little Bit of Dirt Don’t Hurt!

February 21, 2014 6:04 pm

Spotlight on Project GROWS Volunteer Erin Botkin


There’s a time when white shoes must inevitably get dirty. The world is like that. The challenge is to come out of the exchange with a smile instead of a frown.

The focus of this inaugural blog is Erin Botkin, a committed volunteer who strikes me as one of those people who knows how to find the smile in a situation. A member of the Project GROWS Board of Directors and a self-described “energized volunteer/avid Project GROWS supporter,” Erin has been involved with Project GROWS since the very beginning. “It is so easy with outreach programming,” she says, “to fall into the same things that have always been done.” But Project GROWS was different. For this area, it was a step into the unknown for education about health and nutrition. Here was an opportunity to dig down (literally) to the source of our health problems and offer kids a real-live, hands-on alternative. Erin could sense that with this idea, “If the right pieces fell into place, it would catch fire.” She came out to the farm with the first group of Camp Excel youth, which is when she met with the memorably resistant tendencies of clean footwear.

So does it work? I wonder. Does the experience of coming to the Project GROWS farm have an affect on those kids who cringe (or draw a blank) at the word “farm” or even “vegetables”? “Mainstream culture doesn’t provide kids with the opportunity to explore and play,” says Erin as she recalls the incident of the white shoes. Many of the students that they see aren’t often exposed to rural places or the opportunity to get truly dirty. But at Project GROWS she has seen kids become energized and excited just by having the chance to try unfamiliar activities, sample foods right out of the ground and simply “being able to do.”

Erin has her own personal journey with Project GROWS. “My knowledge of farming was super limited before,” she says. But she loved the openness of the community at the farm and the eagerness to share and learn together. Erin came to the weekly volunteer work days and potlucks. “People shouldn’t be intimidated to come out to volunteer,” she says, even if they don’t know about farming. “The farm feels like a safe space to come out, a welcoming environment.” She especially loved when the camp groups overlapped with adult volunteers; The kids could see the adults enjoying themselves in the garden and the adults picked up on that endless energy from the kids.

Last year, Erin encouraged her mother to buy a membership to the Project Grows CSA. Every week they would get vegetables, sometimes unusual ones that they didn’t know how to cook or eat. She said it was a great opportunity to get the family together for a meal. “My mother, brother, grandma and I would get together for family dinner on Sunday. We would talk about what to do with the vegetables.” They would use the recipes that came with the baskets. Erin especially remembers when they made pesto out of the whimsical looking garlic scapes that came in their basket one week. Erin now knows that garlic scapes are the part of the garlic plant that grows above ground from the bulb and eventually flowers. They have a crisp, garlicky taste with the consistency of asparagus and make great pesto sauce.


Erin’s enthusiasm about the farm is catching. Her account of our organization’s impact on the community is another warm affirmation of the worth of what we do.

So I never actually got the full story about the camper with the white shoes. Did she enjoy her day at the farm? Did her shoes get dirty? Erin did tell me about another camper who, at the end of a visit to the farm, said over and over “I was the best planter at Project GROWS!” And he should feel accomplished. He made a real, positive change in the world that day. To Erin, and to all of us at Project GROWS, this camper’s proud proclamation illustrates the power of the farm to expand the horizons of imagination for children, youth and adults alike. Things we once thought were dirty or unpalatable become fun and tasty. We learn to value happiness and health over the way our sneakers look. Worlds expand. Opportunities open. Creativity blooms. We smile.


I would like to thank Erin for her support of Project GROWS and her willingness to be interviewed for this blog. If you have an idea for a topic, are interested in being featured, or would like to write a guest blog, contact me at



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The Unveiling of the Project GROWS blog!

Welcome to our new blog, where we will post frequent stories, musings and updates about the life and times of Project GROWS. We are excited to have this venue to share our meaningful work with the world. We’ll post seasonal vegetable odes, advice on small-scale ecological farming, interviews with youth and volunteers that come to the farm, tasty recipes and more. We can’t wait to get started!

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