Reflecting on Unplanned Potato Patches

We were required to reflect on our experience in the Ruka this past year. I thought I would share (forgive me, it’s lengthy. . . it’s been an action-packed, lots to reflect on, year):

On Friday afternoon, Jami King, my fellow Ruka community member headed out to the compost pile to dump our community compost and discovered a patch of weeds. She decided to pull them up. To her surprise, she pulled up a potato. A fully grown, beautiful, earthy potato. Instead of a the gnarly weeds she perceived, she had discovered an entire potato patch!  She ran into the kitchen to show me her discovery.  Sarah Dockery was the first to make the following not so obvious correlation: The Ruka is like that unplanned potato patch. It’s a community that is unexpected, deeply rooted, and bears fruit (or, in this case, potatoes).  At the beginning of the academic year, we came together to form a mission statement that reads:

“We are a group of Rhodes students commited to life together. We commit to loving our earth, through a life of daily environmentally friendly and sustainable practices within our home. We commit to loving one another through an intentional dedication to a lifestyle of probing and encouraging conversations and the showcasing of our strengths and the challenging our weaknesses to create more loving and servant-hearted individuals.   Finally, we dedicate ourselves to reaching out to the greater Rhodes and Binghampton communities. We seek to offer our home as a center of hospitality and of intellectual, emotional and spiritual exchange and seek to offer ourselves as willing servants.”

This mission statement came out of a many-page fellowship proposal and the six individual versions of the dream that we, as six individual community members, brought to the fellowship.  We quickly learned that what the translation of words on a proposal page have the potential to develop into a lot of different versions of the story.  However, we had a common driving force as fellowships, as Rhodes defines them, calls us “to collaborative learning, critical reflection and the contextualizing of the work we as students do in the classroom.” Nearly every moment in the Ruka is collaboration, and it is this collaboration that intertwines the six versions of the vision of the Ruka.  Our weekly meetings call attention to the ways in which we are succeeding in meeting or falling short of our three goals: loving each other, loving the earth and loving the community.    Our weekly community meals allow us to celebrate one another and hash out discussions and debates started in our classrooms earlier in the week. Late nights together turn into resume review sessions, interview prep pow-wows, or intense job searching and future dreaming. The shower timers beep after six minutes and let everyone else in the house know if you are spending more than your allotted six minutes in the shower. We sweat a lot in the summer, and we wear a lot of sweaters in the winter. We conserve energy, and feed off of each other’s energy in the most challenging of times. Our advisor believes in us and gives us objective advice and epitomizes for me the ideal professor to student relationship Rhodes strives for. We go to her for advice, for objective criticism, for countless job recommendations. And, in the model of what a community member should do, she always comes through.

  We push each other. We are excellent students because we demand that (often unintentionally) from one another. It is not a completive spirit, but rather an, “I am completely confident in you to meet and exceed the high expectations set forth for you” (echoed times five).  We learn to be better listeners and to put our critical thinking and analyzing skills to the test.  Work ethic is key—we must follow through in our responsibilities to our community members (something we were first encouraged to do in our classrooms, and that we continue to be required to do in our academic pursuits, and something that will prove key in our future careers.  Each community member or Rhodes professor that arrives to our home to share a meal brings their ideas and reflections on our community and leaves us stronger and with more to think about.  Success is not just about the GPA, but about the ways in which we put our skills and abilities into practice as we engage with the professional and personal communities we will move into after graduation. 

As an English major, I am an analyzer. I take things in, break them apart and put them back together. The Ruka has called on me to do this in many different ways—as I schedule meetings, as I write mission statements, as I try and be a better friend and listener.  As an Education minor and future elementary educator in a high-need, diverse school, I am going to be called to handle conflict, to instill in my students collaboration skills and the passion to be lifelong learners, and to challenge students to open their minds to people and ideas that are different from themselves or their own ideas. The Ruka has reinforced so many of these skills for me. Mostly, it has taught me the invaluable skill of communication.

We realize we are more the same than we are different. One Tuesday afternoon at the Caritas afterschool Peacemakers program, the children were asked to draw a line down the middle of a piece of construction paper and on one side write the word “different” and on the other, the word “same.” The kids were asked to get with a buddy and write what was the same and different about them.  I sat with two girls as they completed their charts. Initially, they really did not want to work together. They did not like each other at all. They were not friends. They made mean faces at each other. First they filled out the chart to reflect that one of them was Black and one Hispanic. . . but then they both had dark brown eyes. . . and they both were girls . . .and they both liked the color pink . . . and they both liked to dance . . .and they both liked to read. . . and they both had sisters. . . and they were both peacemakers.  They came up with about 4 differences and 12 similarities. They left friends. Kids are resilient. Their relationships turn around quickly.  This activity really encouraged me to reflect on the similarities and differences between the women I live with and the ways in which these similarities and differences challenge and better who we are.

So, to return to the beginning of this reflection, the Ruka is like our wild potato plants. Since the beginning of the year, we have successfully composted. We cut up our grapefruit rinds, spinach stems, garlic peels and throw in our egg shells and tote them to the back yard once or twice a week and add them to our pile in a systematic way.  This is planned. There is someone assigned to this job each week.  We planned to live as six community members in a house off campus and hold to three goals.  We could not plan for the frustrations, the joys, nor the incredible, long-lasting lessons learned. We did not plan on the crop of potato plants We did not plan on the community the Ruka has blossomed into. We now have the opportunity to dig up the potatoes, clean them off, bake them, fry them, or broil them and serve them up for dinner as we, in the words of our community mentor, Onie Johns of Caritas Village, “Put our feet under the same table” and take in all the energy and nutrition those potatoes (and our fellow community members) have to offer. Our fruit is not always the most colorful or extraordinary on the outside but if it is anything, it is substantial and it is deeply rooted.



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