By: Madison Rios, junior, Community, Environment & Development

If you would have asked me three years ago to go into the field and plant a bed of cucumbers, I probably would have rolled my eyes and fussed a bit. Today, I would bolt straight to the farm with enthusiasm. It took awhile, but now I am happy to have my shoes covered in mud and soil under my fingernails.

I did not even know what a cucumber plant looked like until recently. (It’s now my favorite plant with its floppy cotyledons.) Thanks to my time with the Student Farm at Penn State, I know much more, like it’s a member of the Cucurbits family along with pumpkins and watermelons.

Why does any of this matter? Well, there was a time, not too long ago, when I was disconnected with the food I ate. When I ate a meal, it was only because it was that time of day expected to eat. Never once did I consider where my food was grown, who grew it, how it grew, and how it got to my plate. I was blind to how my food decisions affected more than just my own livelihood.

Being a field intern with the Student Farm at Penn State has developed a stronger, more meaningful understanding of food within me. This semester I helped plant tray after tray of seeds. A few weeks later, I volunteered to water those same seeds for the week. During my busy day of classes, meetings and study sessions, I slipped into a warm and bright greenhouse to do my duty. In the quiet, I was amazed at the table bursting with vibrant green seedlings, sprouting proudly in their cells. I don’t know the precise details of seeds’ DNA, but I do know how to be curious. I stood and marveled at the tiny miracles unraveling, growing right in front of my eyes.

Who knew that stopping into the greenhouse to water the plants would be my favorite time of day? College is hectic, but when running my fingers over the stout Brussels sprouts or smelling the perfume of the mint leaves, I have no other choice but to be present in that moment. There is a new sense of responsibility added to my life- make sure to keep these plants alive.

A week later, it’s suddenly time to transplant the cucumbers in the high tunnel out on the Student Farm. The plants are tall, healthy and ready. As a team we prep the bed, measure the correct spacing and plop each cucumber into their new home.

It won’t be long until us interns will need to erect a trellis for the reaching cucumbers and worry for the havoc of pests. I imagine myself walking through the high tunnel checking on the cucumber plants to make sure they are happy and well. I’ll watch as they blossom with tiny flowers. Then, finally, grow its treasured cucumbers.

If you would have asked me three years ago if I cared to know about the time, energy and devotion required to produce my beloved snack of cucumbers and garlic hummus, I would have said, “No, I just want to eat.” Same snack, different perspective, I am happy to say I not only understand but I also love the responsibility of growing seeds into food for people (and myself).

It is safe to say I have only just begun my farming journey. With the support of the Student Farm at Penn State, I am lucky to be able to learn in the most interactive, intimate “classroom” and nurture my evolving relationship with food.

And, I am glad to know it starts in the dirt.