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Working at garden and farm has opened the world to Howey

Barry McNamara
MONMOUTH, Ill. – Olivia Howey ’19 had to take a quick break from an interview. On a beautiful, sunny July morning, fellow members of the summer crew at Monmouth College’s Educational Garden were struggling to open one of two storage sheds on the property.

Howey, who is the summer manager of the garden and the College’s Market Farm, took a few moments to analyze the situation, which called for the use of a crowbar. Only problem: the crowbar was inside the shed.

A few minutes later, with five crew members putting their heads together, the door was unstuck, the shed was accessed and Howey returned to a shade-covered picnic table to resume talking about the garden and farm.

“I like the ‘liberal artsy-ness’ of it,” said Howey, who is majoring in English with a minor in art. “I get to work with professors, with biology and chemistry majors, and with other English majors. It’s really enriched my life.”

“It’s a tough job, maybe the toughest student job on campus,” said English professor Craig Watson, who is faculty adviser to the farm and garden. “The summer manager plans not just planting, cultivating and harvesting schedules, but student work schedules. She organizes U-picks, sales at the farmers market, acquisition of tools and supplies, work on special projects and visitor tours – all the while digging and hoeing full-time in the heat. The job requires smarts, patience and real stamina.”

At an involvement fair in her first days as a Monmouth freshman, Howey learned about the garden, located directly east of the College’s Founders Village student apartments. She didn’t become involved with it until the start of the second semester of her sophomore year. A few months later, she applied to be a part of the summer crew, an experience she enjoyed immensely.

“We had a really great crew,” said Howey, who is working at Monmouth for a second summer. “We really bonded, cooking every night together.”

A bountiful summer

As summer heads into its stretch run, the garden is in its second rotation of crops for the growing season. Leafy greens and garlic were among the first items harvested. Howey and the rest of the crew are now tending to vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, beets and cucumbers. They’ve also received help from high school students who attended this year’s Lux Summer Theological Institute for Youth.

New to the garden this year is a white fence along Broadway, donated by Monmouth alumnus Alex McGehee ’81, as well as a fresh coat of paint on two storage sheds. Through a trade with another Monmouth grad – Dusty Sanor Spurgeon ’10, who runs a community-supported agriculture program in neighboring Knox County – the garden has new cabbage, kale and tomatoes.

“Out at the farm (three blocks east of campus), we’ve started an initiative to grow more flowers – native flowers and bee-friendly flowers,” said Howey. “We have some forsythia bushes, and the students who are here for the Lux summer institute helped us plant iris bulbs, so we’ll have irises next year. We also have the usual crops – asparagus, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries.”

Raising visibility

In addition to delicious produce, Howey hopes to also grow visibility.

“Trying to get more people to know about the garden is a passion project of mine,” she said. “We’ve done things like take over the College’s Snapchat account for a day, and I’m working on getting us into the (Warren County) Prime Beef Festival Parade (in early September).”

For those who already know about the garden, there are still lessons to learn.

“We try to grow some things that aren’t as common,” said Howey. “And we’re always looking to raise awareness about issues such as nutrition and food security.”

Howey said being able to work outside and create something tangible has been very rewarding.

“This is a wonderful, nourishing garden. I love the community aspect of it,” she said. “It’s helped me experience personal growth, and it’s also a way for me to uphold the work that’s been done before me.”

And Watson said Howey has given the garden and farm good leadership.

“Olivia has grown into the job, developing quickly into an authoritative and confident leader,” he said. “Under her leadership, the crew has accomplished a great deal this summer – in spite (again) of the Japanese beetles.”

After the harvest

As Howey begins to envision her life after Monmouth, she knows the garden crew work will be a benefit. The experience of living in another country should also serve her well. Howey has spent several years in Romania, including all four years of high school. When she lived in the United States from kindergarten through seventh grade, Olathe, Kansas, was home.

“I’m hoping to work in a community library,” she said of her post-Monmouth plans. “I’m also interested in working as an art archivist, which would tie the two worlds of my English major and art minor together.”

Pursuing a master’s degree in library science is a possibility.

“The world is open to me, especially after working here (in the garden),” Howey said. “It’s something that has set me up to do well in the future, and it’s really changed my perspective on how I want to move in this world.”