Even though Morgan Stonefelt couldn’t get her shoes muddy at the HEAL Project’s farm this year, she’s still leaving her mark on the organization.
Stonefelt, 29, is an intern at the HEAL Project, the El Granada-based nonprofit that aims to educate youth and the local community on sustainable agriculture. Stonefelt lives in Sacramento and is getting her master’s degree in public health from San Jose State University. She heard about the Coastside farm-based educational nonprofit last year through the university, when another graduate student, Sophia Hunter, now the HEAL Project’s development manager, did a virtual presentation about the farm. Hunter earned her degree in August, and now the two work together on the HEAL Project’s program evaluations, making sure its services are reaching those who need it most.
When the pandemic shut down virtually everything last March, the HEAL Project’s staff pivoted to video lessons for students no longer able to attend in-person programming at farm and garden campuses. The distance learning section of the website includes lessons on composting, vermicomposting, upcycling and a livestream tasting tour of the farm. The HEAL Project has continued its Intensive Garden Program at Hatch Elementary School by providing video mini-lessons each week accompanied by materials like seeds and soil for teachers to distribute to students. The HEAL Project is accustomed to hiring talented women for its internships. The website lists eight other interns dating back to 2017 who worked in everything from marketing to designing curriculum.
Stonefelt’s experience with nonprofits and sustainable agriculture made her well-qualified for the job. She’s a development manager for Solar Cookers International, which distributes carbon-free solar cooking units to communities around the world. In 2013, she received grant money for studying “biointensive farming methods” in Northern California, where she learned how to grow enough food for four people on a self-sustaining one-acre plot of land that used 60 percent less water than traditional farming methods. The HEAL Project, which educates kindergarten through 12th-grade students about the importance of the gardening ecosystem and the farm-to-fork process, aligned well with Stonefelt’s goals.
“My interests really lie in nutrition, the environment and the relationship that we have with our food and what that means for the environment,” Stonefelt said.
Stonefelt began her remote internship in October. Her goal is to evaluate the effectiveness of the program and assess its impact throughout the county. This includes documenting students’ goals and knowledge about agriculture and nutrition before and after each camp. The questions must be tweaked for corresponding grade levels.
Stonefelt is also using a mapping software that can visually represent the HEAL Project’s impact in San Mateo County. Just as important as where the organization is reaching students, the data tells her where it had yet to target. Now, Stonefelt says, the question becomes, “Why aren’t we there? Is there another organization serving that area? Or is it an organization that doesn’t know about us? It’s important to map and see where those gaps are.”
Stonefelt’s internship will end in May, but her mapping could remain relevant long after her tenure. She noted a goal for public health professionals is to take preventative measures to ensure healthy living, rather than treating problems as they arrive. By educating youth on not only their food but the relationship between that diet and their environment and how it impacts them, Stonefelt and the program instructors believe they’re giving students a unique opportunity to learn about their health.
“It’s really teaching children, at a young age, habits that are going to stay forever,” she said.