In a city where more than 500,000 people live in food deserts – areas with restricted access to fresh foods – Central Michigan University senior Christina DeMaster is nourishing bodies and minds.
The community health education student spent her summer as a community relations intern for the
Greening of Detroit, a nonprofit that is transforming the city. The Greening plants trees, develops community gardens, creates safer parks, increases environmental job opportunities and educates residents on healthier lifestyles.
DeMaster has always wanted to create a community garden and this internship has given her the opportunity to do just that. She grows fresh blackberries, carrots, kale and more for those who are unable to grow their own.
Lafayette Greens is one of the Greening's community gardens, located in the heart of Detroit, that DeMaster tends to while earning college credit for her required internship. Here she assists with harvests and Taste It Tuesday events, where she prepares vegetables and herbs from the garden for community members to sample.
"All the harvested produce from Lafayette Greens is given back to the community for free, giving them a chance to have the outcome of their health in their own hands," DeMaster said.
In addition to maintaining community gardens, DeMaster provides nutrition lessons and cooking classes for schools and youth camps and works with the Green Corps – a program that combats unemployment rates by providing Detroit adults and youth with job training in the environmental industry. She also creates advertisements and publications for the Greening, to educate community members on the advantages of having green spaces throughout the city.
Working with the Greening has opened DeMaster's eyes to a new world of potential careers.
"If you're in community health education, it doesn't stop at a health department or a hospital," DeMaster said. "As health educators we aim for preventative health which starts with how we fuel our body and minds. Any career path in community health will start that change for a healthier tomorrow."
Her supervisor, Director of Community and Public Relations Trish Hubbell, said DeMaster has been helpful in providing hands-on support to the organization. DeMaster brings a younger perspective to the Greening, something Hubbell says she and other employees can all learn from.
"As with any industry, the young interns that are coming in will be that next generation of leaders," Hubbell said. "Especially with the Greening, this is the next generation of environmental leaders."
Some of DeMaster's favorite memories from her internship have been watching adults discover the benefits of community gardens and children playing in parks for the first time. She said that these moments are how she can tell her work is making a difference.
"I think it's really important for students to put what they learned in the classroom back into the community," DeMaster said.
The Harrison Township student will earn her degree from CMU in August at the conclusion of her internship.