Environmental Sustainability Student Blogger Study USA

Keep the Joy Around You

Mural in multi-colors painted onto a brick building

Each term, one participant from each HECUA program takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Rachel de Sobrino (she/her/hers) is HECUA’s student blogger for Environmental Sustainability Spring 2021. She is student at University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, majoring in geography. Read on for her final post!

The weather in Minneapolis these past few weeks has made every site visit a joy and left me crankily eying my window whenever we find ourselves learning on Zoom. With only one week left of the Environmental Justice program with HECUA, I’m excited to embrace summer but also know that I’ll miss my classmates and the ability to learn in such an engaging environment. I’m already dreading when fall semester will roll around and bring with it rigid classrooms, deadlines, and lectures.  

The warming weather has brought us even more opportunities to get outside and explore while learning. We’ve gone on two art-inspired bike rides, each leaving me feeling more connected to the history and environment of Minneapolis neighborhoods. We took an environmental justice cycle tour through North Minneapolis guided virtually by Juxtaposition Arts that allowed us to explore how art and environment are connected in building community and defending against degradation. More recently, we were joined by Olivia Levins Holden and Nell Pierce on a mural tour through South Minneapolis that showed the intertwining history and culture of the many neighborhoods and amplified the importance of community. Olivia shared a powerful new framing with us: a mural is the evidence of the process of community-engagement. In many cases, the planning, design, and community involvement take much longer than the actual painting of the mural, because building relationships and designing something for and with communities is the most important.

Students crouched on the ground transplanting many different plants.
HECUA students transplanting as part of a site visit to Growing North.

In addition to our bike tours, I’ve been taking advantage of the lovely weather by biking to site visits with my neighborhood-classmates, and I am officially exhausted after a week of biking nearly ten miles each day. Plus, I’m convinced that Eliza takes us up the biggest hills she can find. I have definitely come to appreciate the value of a hard day’s work — if that work is meaningful. Instead of spending my 90-degree Saturday relaxing or hunting down a building with AC, I found myself begging a friend to let me come out to a community garden site with them to help dig soil. Last time I told my mom I was stressed she said “I thought all you had to do was pick lettuce,” and she’s not entirely wrong. I’ve realized that the reason I don’t have any free time (or homework or work time if I’m being honest) is because I’m volunteering nearly every solid chunk of my time gardening, either at my internship site or with community organizations that I’ve met this semester. So, I’m picking lots of lettuce, getting a few nasty bruises while hauling soil, and trying to wiggle homework and work in where it fits. One of our phenomenal class guests last week was Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah-Geechee Nation, who told us to “always keep joy around you”. That’s what I’m trying to do. 

Next week we are camping out at Lily Springs farm for a restful yet rigorous period of learning and farm labor (and to make all of our friends jealous). I think this will be a fitting close to a semester of adventuring, relationship building, and thoughtful engagement. If I wasn’t looking forward to a summer of continued relationships, I’d be much sadder to see HECUA come to a close. Instead, I’m excited for our shared and separate futures. 


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