Cultivating Knowledge and Confidence During my Internship with OFRF

By Marina Vergara. Marina joined OFRF as the Research & Education Intern for Winter & Spring of 2024. We are grateful for her contributions to our work and wish her all the best in her next chapter. 

I came into my internship at OFRF with one primary goal: to learn as much as I could about the organic farming sector in the United States. After working internationally and studying an international field in graduate school, I decided that I wanted to transition my work to be closer to home. I thought this role was the perfect opportunity to begin this transition. After completing two 10-week internship periods with OFRF’s Research & Education team, I feel more knowledgeable about organic farming in the U.S., and more confident in my professional self and abilities. This role has prepared me for my next step: working at Waltham Fields Community Farm in Waltham, Massachusetts, as their Community Outreach Farmer.

I focused my internship on supporting the development of OFRF’s upcoming Research Hub, a project developed in direct response to 2022’s NORA Report findings, where survey respondents shared a need for a centralized, all-encompassing organic farming research hub. It was a great opportunity to be a part of such a meaningful project: a project that is directly responding to the needs of the organic community, and a project that will be used by the organic community at large.

Throughout my internship, I’ve been able to take the time to explore the research being done in organic farming in the U.S. One of my first tasks was to edit and confirm an outreach list for the upcoming Research Hub, which allowed me to delve into the individual work being done by organic farming researchers and professionals. I took this opportunity to read through the work and familiarize myself with the breadth and depth of organic research and initiatives taking place in the United States. From soil science studies to organizations supporting youth involvement in organic agriculture, I learned a lot about the sector as a whole.

I have also had the opportunity to sit-in on meetings between the Research & Education team and farmers who are part of the first cohort of the Farmer-Led Trials program. These meetings have given me some insight into what it can be like to support an organic farmer in conducting their own research, which is something I think I could be interested in pursuing in the future. Through attending these meetings, I saw firsthand some ways to work with farmers in developing and refining their research questions, and creating a research design and plan. I also learned ways to work with farmers collaboratively, making sure to put their interests first, and working together to design their research plan to fit the scientific method’s parameters.

In addition to my knowledge, my professional confidence has also grown during my time with OFRF. I was encouraged by the members of the Research & Education team to share my opinions during meetings and give feedback like any other member of the team. I worked closely with my supervisor, bouncing ideas back and forth to build the user experience for the Research Hub. I also had the opportunity to take ownership of my projects. While updating the Research Hub outreach list, I wanted to increase the number of contacts we had from 1890 and 1994 Land Grant Institutions. When I brought this idea up to my supervisor, I was encouraged to take it on, and was supported in my work.

 Next, I will begin my role as Waltham Fields Community Farm’s Community Outreach Farmer. In this role, I will be working on an eleven-acre organic vegetable farm, which will allow me to put the organic farming knowledge I’ve gained during my internship into practice. I will also be managing three of their community outreach programs, bringing the farm’s produce to areas of the community that typically lack access to fresh, organically grown produce. This feels like my natural next step into the organic farming space.

 I am leaving OFRF a more knowledgeable and confident professional version of myself. I am excited to take these skills to my next position as a Community Outreach Farmer. Thank you to all of OFRF’s staff who have supported me during my time here. I learned so much from everyone, and am grateful that I was able to spend time working with such a dynamic team over the past couple of months.