Johns Hopkins day of service takes students out of their Homewood bubble

Natalia Camargo, a Johns Hopkins freshman, is from New York. Before Saturday she had never been to a farm. But there she was in a field a few miles south of the Mason-Dixon Line in Baltimore County showing off a huge cabbage that she had just harvested with a wicked-looking cutting tool.

Camargo’s feat of agricultural prowess drew a laugh from fellow freshman Laura Rodriguez of Colonia, N.J., who had at least visited a farm before.

Camargo and Rodriguez were taking part in the Johns Hopkins University's President's Day of Service, which took hundreds of students and university employees out of the protective bubble of their Homewood campus Saturday and onto the streets of Baltimore, the fields of rural Maryland and other places to contribute their labor to the community.

Gary Fearnow, a frequent volunteer at First Fruit Farms in Freeland, looked on approvingly at the work of four harvesters he had just instructed in the art of cabbage-cutting.

“They’re doing very well. They got the hang of it very fast,” he said. “We only give the cutting instruments to mature people.”

The four wielding the cutters were part of a group of 14 who had signed up for service at First Fruit, a Christian ministry that grows vegetables and raises cattle and chickens to give away to food banks and other charities in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Rick Bernstein, president of the farm, said First Fruits is a regular participant in the Hopkins service day program. Bernstein, Hopkins Class of 1979 and a recent retiree from the investment banking firm still best known as Alex. Brown & Sons, welcomed the Hopkins group shortly after noon and told them their assignment would be in a cabbage field still muddy from the morning’s rain.

“I got a Hopkins education. It was a great blessing,” Bernstein told the students. “Using that for the betterment of others is really an important thing.”

The students had started their day of service on the floor of Ralph S. O’Connor Recreation Center on campus. They gathered there for their choices out of the dozens of service projects scheduled as part of the day of service.

Chris Lin, a senior from Los Angeles, was helping to organize a group called Friends of St. Vincent Cemetery. Its volunteers would have the season-appropriate task of cutting down intrusive vegetation, raking leaves and weeding at the historic Baltimore graveyard.

Felicia Chang, a sophomore from Austin, Texas, held up a sign for Civic Work, the project she was helping to organize. Her group was planning to refurbish and paint picnic tables for a community garden in Baltimore.

“We’re the young youth. We have all the energy,” she said. “We should be helping out more.”

That was pretty much the idea when Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels launched the day of service 10 years ago.

Daniels himself was planning to participate in two projects in the afternoon — doing cleanup with the Greater Remington Association and working on renovations and painting with the Corner Team Inc., a group that promotes sports participation for children, seniors and the disabled.

The group that chose the farm included several who were getting their first taste of rural life.

“I’m very much a city girl. I don’t know much about farms,” said freshman Ese Bowry of New York. “I’m not sure I’d return to a farm, but this is still pretty cool. … It’s definitely a side of Maryland I haven’t seen.”

Bowry was one of the 10 students who passed on the offer of cutters and formed a human chain to gather cabbages that had already been cut and pass them along to a flatbed trailer where the vegetables were put into crates holding about 600 pounds each.

Peter Weiss, a freshman from Long Island, found himself in the position of being the only man in the group of 14.

“I think we were supposed to be more guys, but I was the only one that showed up,” he said. “It’s not a bad activity, definitely.”

Despite her cabbage-cutting success in a scenic location, Camargo was not ready to relocate to the rolling hills of northern Maryland.

“I think it’s very nice. I wouldn’t want to live here though,” she said.

Some students chose a more urban experience.

Four students were working in the 2200 block of Greenmount Ave., a neighborhood far removed — economically if not geographically — from their leafy campus.

Jon Andersen, a junior from Chicago, said they were part of a larger group of 23 that was planting eight trees on Greenmount and seven on 25th Street.

Jaanvi Mahesh, a sophomore from East Windsor, N.J., said it was good to get out into the community and out of a campus that is “very isolated.” She said the students had received a warm welcome from neighborhood residents.

“Everyone’s been super-nice and interested in what we’re doing,” Mahesh said.

The four decided to name the tree they were planting Timothy Edgar. Polly Berman, a junior from Savannah, Ga., suggested returning each year on its “birthday.”

“Welcome to the world, Timothy Edgar,” Berman said. “We love you so much already.”

mdresser@baltsun.com

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