Study USA

Farming, Phone-banking, and Body Painting: HECUA internship update

Each HECUA program in the United States includes significant time in the field during a 20 hour-per-week internship placement. Each student in our semester-long domestic programs works with HECUA’s Manager of Internships and Community Partnerships, Emily Seru, to select an internship site and project that meets their learning goals. On a blustery October day, we stopped by the Environmental Sustainability classroom to hear the mid-semester internship site presentations from Fall 2017 HECUA students. Read on for a sneak peek into internship options for students interested in sustainable development, environmental science, and climate justice in the United States.

Nick Butler Knighton explains his internship site.

Nick Knighton using Yu-Gi-Oh as an analogy for his internship site.

Nick Butler Knighton

Kitty Anderson Youth Science Center

Nick has spent the semester working with youth at the Science Museum’s Kitty Andersen Youth Science Center (KAYSC). He’s most proud of working through initial feelings of apprehension or lack of preparedness in his internship site with help from his supervisor, Shona. They sit down every week to discuss how Nick can bring his whole self into his work and how he can feel like he’s meant to be in this space. He’s been introduced to the ideas of growth and asset mindsets. This constant encouragement and motivation has allowed Nick to develop teaching and curriculum development skills. He recently had the opportunity to sit in on an Air Permitting training coordinated by another HECUA student’s internship site, and integrated that information into curriculum he’s developing for KAYSC youth.

Kayla Foss

Center for Earth, Energy, and Democracy

Kayla works with the Center for Earth, Energy, and Democracy, a nonprofit based in Minneapolis. CEED was created in 2006 to “work towards equity in environmental policy.” They want to make sure that all communities are healthy, protected, and not overburdened by toxic pollution. A major project for the organization this year is “green zone” development – converting toxic sites to healthy and vibrant community spaces. Clear need for this type of work can be seen in another of CEED’s projects, launched this year: the Environmental Justice Mapping Tool. Kayla says of the tool, “this is applicable to a range of the issues we’re all working on at our internship sites.” She’s spent most of the semester working with this tool and the Air Permit Commenting Training that CEED offers to community members.

Aiden and Talula work in the garden at Gandhi Mahal Interfaith Garden

Aiden and Talula at the Gandhi Mahal Interfaith Garden. 

Talula Pontuti and Aiden Winn

Gandhi Mahal, MNIPL, First Nations Kitchen

The shared vision for the three organizations incorporated into Talula and Aiden’s internship placement is to create community through strong relationships and good, healthy, organic food. First Nations Kitchen is a church and group that works to bring healthy, organic, indigenous-based food back into diets of community members. On Sunday nights First Nations Kitchen hosts a community dinner, prepared by volunteers from fresh produce grown in community gardens. Talula supervises preparation of the dinners by coordinating volunteers and overseeing meal preparation. Aiden’s role is to conduct interviews and evaluate participant and attendee participation. He asks, “Do you feel welcome? Are you enjoying the food? Is this accessible for all?” Talula and Aiden are both involved in an aquaponics feasibility study, to see if the church that hosts First Nations could support a small aquaponics operation. As they plan for the conclusion of their internships, Aiden and Talula are working hard to provide documentation like the garden map, and to set up a seed saving operation. Talula says, “We feel really valued in our internships. We’re working on projects that no one else is really working on. This has been really fun, and also challenging! We’ve had to realize oh, ok! They really do want our input. This isn’t just hypothetical.”

Megan Deppa


MN350’s mission is to return the earth’s atmosphere to a safe carbon level of 350 ppm. They believe that this change will require a fundamental shift in our society, and they approach climate justice with a social movement building approach. Megan has plugged into MN350’s organizing work, helping to coordinate grassroots level campaigns led by volunteers. MN350’s paid staff is limited to six people, but its network spreads across the state, so effective volunteer coordination is crucial. It just so happens that Megan’s supervisor at MN350, Patty O’Keefe, is a HECUA alumna herself. Megan has spent a lot of time this semester working with Patty on the Climate Majority Project, organizing MN350’s constituents to vote for clean energy and climate justice in the midterm elections.


Elise and Iman at the Frogtown Farm internship site

Elise and her supervisor Iman at Frogtown Farm. 

Elise Hanson

Frogtown Farm

Elise has dedicated her time this semester to farming, working with Frogtown Farm, a certified organic urban farm in St. Paul, MN. Frogtown Farm has three components: a production farm, a Commons Garden, and a public park. The farmland was purchased from the Wilder Foundation by community members with the support of the Trust for Public Land and developed into a community farming space.  Elise identifies the organization’s values as food sovereignty, knowledge sharing, good food, localized food systems, and community and collaboration. Her site supervisor, Iman, identifies a key element of the organization’s mission as “demystifying” food. Elise’s role supports this project: as an assistant in the production farm she plants, harvests, processes, and prepares the gardens for winter.

Dania Marin-Gavilan

Hope Community 

Hope Community is a massive organization that primarily provides wrap-around services and affordable housing for Minneapolis residents. In Dania’s words, “Historically Hope has been run by super cool, amazing women.” It was founded by a group of radical runs living in the Phillips Neighborhood. They slowly purchased property in the area, expanding their vision of hospitality through affordable housing. Hope today has developed a model of deep community listening that guides their holistic programming. Dania’s work is primarily with Hope’s Urban Gardening program, a community garden directly connected to this idea of holding space and growing power through listening. Dania has been able to think about these ideas in a larger, systemic way during her internship, attending a food access summit with the Food Team Members at Hope last week. This fed her enthusiasm and excitement for Hope’s upcoming visioning process. She’s been thinking a lot about what her power is, what the Urban Garden Program’s power is, and what to do with that in 2018.

Zaka Freiburg

Lily Springs Farm

Zaka’s internship at Lily Springs Farms has centered around ideas of disturbance and regeneration. Lily Springs is a farm property that was purchased by a single family over 30 years ago. At that time the land was cropland and a pine plantation. In the last five years or so the owners have begun to devote time to healing and restoring the land through permaculture practices. Zaka says (somewhat deceptively, we believe), “we spend the majority of our day drinking coffee and snuggling goats, and then if we get around to it, we will work on the farm.” The goats are part of Lily Springs’ commitment to healing the land through disturbance – a herd of eight goats are moved through the farmland in an attempt to naturally control invasive species and and assist with the conversion of the land from pine plantation to oak savanna. Zaka helps with this effort, chopping brush, tending to the goats, and weeding. Over the course of his internship he’s learned that there are infinite possibilities for the land, that permaculture can be for everyone, and that regenerative agriculture, sadly, is not the norm.

Nick Batchelor

Appetite for Change/Breaking Bread

Appetite for Change uses food as a tool building health, wealth, and social change in North Minneapolis. HECUA intern Nick is most involved in Appetite for Change’s social enterprise restaurant, Breaking Bread, a community cafe that employs Northside Minneapolis residents and offers healthy food for affordable prices. Nick has always wanted to open up a restaurant that focuses on sustainable practices. In the past he says that this meant a focus on sustainable agriculture and farming practices. His time at Breaking Bread has encouraged him to consider how community health and well-being factor into conversations around sustainability. Nick takes great pride in his work streamlining systems and assisting with organization at Breaking Bread. He’s realized how constantly and feverishly the people running Breaking Bread work, and he is happy to help take pieces of the administrative work off their plate.

Nick shared this amazing video made by Appetite for Change staff and volunteers:

Jenny Zander

Honor the Earth

Honor the Earth was founded in 1993 by Winona LaDuke to address the two primary needs of the Native environmental movement: the need to break the geographic and political isolation of Native communities, and the need to increase financial resources for organizing and change. At the Minneapolis office, Jenny works with two supervisors, Eryn Wyse and Heidi Affi. Her work this semester has been at the intersection of art and activism. She’s been a significant part of the creation of a body painting series called Why We Fight: Women’s Tribute to the Sacred designed to draw attention to a series of issues: Line 3 resistance, water and manoomin (wild rice) protection, and missing and murdered indigenous women. Jenny says, “I feel really lucky to be working alongside these women on issues of creative resistance and pipeline resistance.”

Natalie and Ellie in front of the Sierra club headquarters in Minneapolis

Ellie and her supervisor Natalie in front of the Sierra Club offices in Minneapolis. 

Ellie Jordan

Sierra Club

The Sierra Club was founded by John Muir in 1852 to”explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth.” Initially, the organization was controlled by wealthy white men (like Muir and his pal Theodore Roosevelt) who wanted to protect wild land from destruction by industry. Increasingly, however, the organization is changing. They have adopted increasing inclusivity as a primary goal, and are working to push for a transition away from a fossil fuel-based economy. They’d like to do this, in the words of Ellie’s supervisor Natalie Cook, “in a way that lifts up those who have been most harmed by fossil fuels, and in a way that leaves no one behind.” Ellie’s been spending a lot of time with grassroots organizing and mobilization around TarSands/Stop Line 3 work. This means that she’s been leading phone banks, coordinating email outreach, and planning events. Ellie says that the social justice component of her work has forced her to examine how she lives her own life, and how important it is to involve community members in organizing around elections and political issues.

Those are just a sampling of the exciting projects and movements our HECUA students are involved with this year! If you’d like more information about any of our programs in the United States, please click here

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