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To Make a Garden Grow

An Interview with Riley Ford, Intern with W&M's Sustainable Dining Team


R: Riley
M: Michelle, interviewer

 Riley Ford

M: What year are you and what are you studying?

R: I’m a sophomore and I’m a declared Public Policy major--the Economics declaration forms have been sitting in my room for the past three weeks, but I’m planning on declaring that, so a double major.

M: Can you tell me why you chose to study public policy and economics?

R: I’ve always been really interested in government. When I was 13, I was a page for the Senate of Virginia through a program where 13-14 year olds all over the state can apply and work for nine weeks during session. That was the first time I was exposed to government and how it works. It just so happened that when I was session, a very controversial abortion bill was going through, and that was when I was like, “Oh, this stuff is going to matter for me later on. Maybe I want to know more about it or be more involved in that.” So that’s where it started; I came to William & Mary knowing what I wanted to do. I prefer public policy over government because it’s more well-rounded. Rather than just taking government classes, I also take Sociology and Economics classes, which helped me realize I really enjoy Economics.

M: Do you have a memorable class?

R: I took a class called “Environmental Sociology,” and I’d never taken a sociology class, but the class was amazing, I loved it. It definitely opened my eyes to how sociology and government interact, there’s a huge intersectionality between the two.

M: If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?

R: The ability to stop time because I’m not a morning person. I have two alarms, five minutes apart, and after I wake up after the first alarm, I just wish with all my heart that I could just stop time and sleep for another couple of hours, and then I could get up at the same time to start my day.

M: Can you tell me about your work on campus?

R: I work for Sodexo as a Sustainability Intern and I’m also a Sharpe Fellow so I’m hired as a TA right now for Sharpe.

Sodexo hires Sustainability Interns and you can be in different focus groups-- farm, meatless monday, composting, and hydroponics. I’m in hydroponics, so it’s the area in the Cafe where we have some really nice plants growing in. I was originally hired in Composting, but it just wasn’t something I was super-super passionate about and it was in a group of people who were passionate about composting.

Riley Ford at the Hydroponics Garden

M: So, what are hydroponics and what do you guys do with them?

R: They’re basically plants that, rather being in fertilized soil, are in fertilized water. There’s no soil over in that area, the seeds are planted in a sponge material. The grow walls have different cycles, so when you first put seedlings in there, it’s a 24-hour cycle where the lights are always on and the water is always flowing. Once they get to a certain height we turn that off and it becomes a night and day cycle. Ultimately, even though they’re in water and not soil, it saves water, improves the air quality in the space around it, it’s more efficient, so it’s definitely better for the environment than having huge crops like a farm. You can produce a lot with it in a smaller space than a traditional farm would need.

M: What are you guys producing now?

R: We have tomatoes, it took a while for them to fruit and they’re about the size of a nickel. We have some basil that was recently picked, and green lettuce. If you went to the Cafe, you would see the really big spherical and bright green part of the grow wall, that’s the green lettuce. We have a lot of red lettuce on the grow wall, too.

M: You sound like you really enjoy working with Sustainability!

R: I do! I came in and I’ve always wanted to do Public Policy, but at first I wanted to do Environmental Policy. I took beginning classes for that and I really liked it. I’m still doing some Environmental classes, not so much this semester but when I have time next semester because it’s a passion of mine.

M: How do you like William & Mary, in general?

R: More than I thought I would! My parents went and met here, and my dad was on the football team here, so I’ve literally been coming to William & Mary since I was a kid. I have a picture of me as a one-year-old child at a football game, wearing a William & Mary jersey. I’ve been here my whole life and I really did not want to come here because of that. I wanted to be my own person. I was looking at other out-of-state schools, but I can go to an in-state school and pay this much money, or I could go to an out-of-state school and pay 60k. It was in easy choice after that, and I thought I was going to hate it. But then I came, and I started to really enjoy the classes and teachers my second semester, and joining the Women’s Rugby team helped a lot. I found a huge group of people who liked the same things, and I’ve really liked it since then. I definitely ended up choosing the right place.

Updated March 27, 2018