Coco Rhum ’24

Roots Rising, Pittsfield, MA

This summer I had the immense privilege of being an education intern at Roots Rising, an organization based in Pittsfield, that empowers local teenagers through farming and food justice.

Coco Rhum leading a workshop. My internship was with the summer farm crew, which was made up of seven area teens and a core staff team of four. We spent most of our days working on local farms, distributed food to Pittsfield residents at the Berkshire Dream Center and went on weekly field trips. A core part of Roots Rising’s mission is to provide teens with meaningful work experiences, and, for many of the participants, summer farm crew was their first job.

Beyond providing summer jobs, Roots Rising approaches its crews with a focus on community building and youth development. Each day begins and ends with a circle in which everyone is given the time and space to articulate their feelings and thoughts. Every Tuesday, a portion of the day is dedicated to Real Talk, a method of communication that allows crew and staff members to share feedback and give the gift of self-knowledge to each other.

Another facet of my internship was to lead workshops. I taught one on zine making and another on community organizing. My workshop on community organizing challenged the crew to reflect on their experiences growing up in Pittsfield and to envision a more just future for themselves and their community. It was very powerful—both for the crew members and for me.

Much of what we did on a daily basis tangibly demonstrated how we can build resilient systems for food justice/sovereignty in the Berkshires and thus also revealed the many gaps in our current infrastructure and policy. Taking on the challenges faced by Berkshire County together with a bold vision for the future and then providing empowerment through sharing an organizing strategy for how to realize these changes—was a meaningful teaching and learning experience.

Roots Rising Summer '22 Interns.Throughout the summer, our crew grew to become a tight-knit community, and I developed close relationships with many of the members. The power of our group was visible, not just in our efficacy as a team of workers, but in the strength of our relationships and in how the environment fostered the development of each person. It was humbling to watch all of us grow and flourish over the course of the summer—becoming more comfortable in expressing themselves, whether it was through humor, candid commentary, emotional articulation, or—as was often the case—gestures of friendship, community, and understanding.

I hope that this is not the end of my work with Roots Rising, and I certainly plan to continue to work to make the world a better place through education and food justice. My summer with Roots Rising showed me how powerful a community tied together by hard work, care and connectivity can be. I feel truly indebted to the Class of 1951 and the ’68 Center for Career Exploration for making my internship experience possible. Not only did I find my work to be deeply meaningful, I was able to grow as a leader, make invaluable connections and have a joyous time while doing so.