Claire Stephens ’21 might not have been able to see over the table, but that didn’t stop her from talking with potential customers.
It was the summer of 2005 and the 6-year-old’s first day at her grandmother’s booth at the Lacey Farmers Market. An assortment of lavender products—from lotion and perfume to sachets and concentrated oils—was spread out in front of her, and the mild, pleasant scent seeped into her clothing. She loved it.
Fifteen years later, Claire still helps to run her grandmother’s Miller Lavender booth, now at the Olympia Farmers Market, so when the opportunity arose for Claire to be a social media and community engagement intern for the Tacoma Farmers Market, it was a natural fit for the sociology and anthropology major.
With four markets in four distinct Tacoma neighborhoods, Tacoma Farmers Market works with more than 100 vendors and thousands of residents each week from May through October. Claire is responsible for managing those relationships by talking to vendors and photographing their goods for posts on the market’s Instagram and Facebook pages, which she also manages; gathering feedback from marketgoers at the market’s informational booth; and helping customers turn their electronic benefit transfer (EBT) dollars into tokens so they can buy fresh fruits and vegetables from vendors. The summer internship sees her working at three markets—Tuesdays on the east side, Thursdays at Broadway, and Sundays at Point Ruston—as well as spending Mondays in the market office scheduling social media for the coming week.
“A lot of lightbulb moments have happened here,” she says as she is sitting on a cement planter near the live music in the heart of the bustling Broadway Farmers Market. “I’ve been talking to so many people through running the social media, and it’s forced me out of my comfort zone.”
Claire was connected to the internship through Puget Sound’s RISE (Reflective Immersive Sophomore Experience) program. Designed specifically for second-year students, the program combines classroom sessions with summer internships to offer students the opportunity to explore their interests and gain real-world work experience. Students learn how to write a cover letter and resume, conduct themselves in an interview, set goals, and use their internships to leverage employment opportunities. But beyond the work experience, the goal of the RISE program is to have students reflect after the internship, which allows them to realize they learned skills—from how to use computer programs to how to solve interpersonal conflicts— they might not have known they were learning at the time, and to discover what they did and didn’t enjoy.
For Claire, interacting with the children at the farmers market information booth has been the highlight of her experience.
“We give out tokens called ‘Apple-a-Days’ for kids to get a free fruit or vegetable of their choice from a vendor,” Claire said. “We give it to the kids, not the parents, so they can understand how to spend money. They get so excited. That’s so fun to see.”
Claire says the farmers market community is one she has loved being a part of and hopes to stay in. Moving forward, she would like to find a community-centered career that sees her interacting with a wide range of people in a variety of places for the common good.