Putting Green interns reflect on summer at the park

By Kremena Spengler

Staff Writer

NEW ULM – Michelle Youngblom, a student at Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash., was drawn to a summer internship at Putting Green Park, New Ulm, because of its direct connections to her studies.

Youngblom, who is majoring in peace studies and philosophy, saw the possibilities to work with the concept of social justice.

One core program at the park this summer – called Plant It Forward Garden- held a particular appeal to Youngblom.

The program – which reserved four out of 48 community-garden plots to grow food for the Food Shelf – afforded her an opportunity to work with community gardens and to connect families in need to healthy, sustainable food, explained Youngblom.

Youngblom, along with fellow intern Elisabeth Spencer, chose what vegetables to sow in the plots, planted, cared for, harvested and delivered the produce.

The balance of the plots has been rented out for $35 per plot per season to families in the community, a program component. The program has been so successful that it is expanding next year, with 30 extra plots being added, according to Putting Green Executive Director Tracie Vranich.

Youngblom, a Lafayette native, knew of the internship through her local connections. During her high school years in New Ulm, she was involved in similar ventures, often with a focus on sustainability, especially the YES Team. (YES stands for Youth Energy Summit.)

In turn, Spencer, Youngblom’s best friend and a fellow student at Whitworth, learned of the opportunity from Youngblom, and she has lived with Youngblom and her family in Lafayette for the duration of the internship, which runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Spencer was drawn to the opportunity from a different perspective – that of a biology major. She has taken the chance to study the plants in the park and has created a botany atlas.

The Plant It Forward plots were just one component of a multi-dimensional internship program that offered a diversity of experiences to the interns.

Youngblom and Spencer functioned as park managers, running both the community gardens and the mini-golf portions of the park.

Even though the park is a non-profit organization, it still takes in revenues, and the internship included business mentoring.

The interns learned about marketing, accounting and how revenues impact the bottom line.

They planned out, advertised and conducted events such as EcoSpeaks and Moonlight Golf and utilized social media, print ads, posters and other venues to advertise them.

The pair even had supervisory duties, learning something about employee management, thanks to a cooperative effort with the Minnesota Valley Action Council. MVAC provided employment for two landscaping specialists at the park, which Youngblom and Spencer supervised.

“That’s the beauty of the internships we offer,” reflected Vranich. “The experiences we offer are applicable to variety of majors, ranging, as you can see, from peace studies to biology to economics.”

Vranich also noted that, while many college internships are unpaid, Putting Green interns are set up as independent contractors. They get a chance to earn some money by sharing in the revenues generated by mini-golf.

Youngblom is writing a reflection paper on her internship, which, like Spencer’s atlas, will earn her credit at Whitworth.

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