Food Initiative Interns Take Top Honors
May 25, 2019
Julia Portmann ’19 and Kelsey McNaul ’19 were instrumental in the launch of the Food Initiative this past year, and their efforts were recognized at Commencement as they garnered two of the most prestigious awards for graduating seniors.
The Eugene B. Casey Medal: Julia Portmann
Julia served in all three of the internships we offer through the Food Initiative: the Campus Garden Internship, the Permaculture Internship, and the Food Initiative Internship. With the inspiring intensity of her scholarship and character, she served as a powerful model of selfless civic leadership for the community. For her exemplary contributions to campus life, Washington College faculty awarded her the Eugene B. Casey Medal.
Committed to the ideal of achieving positive community impacts through learning, service, and hard work, Julia emerged as a natural leader in Food Initiative programming. She dedicated herself to focusing on efforts that offer the greatest strategic leverage for initiatives, whether internship research projects, club collaborations, or outreach with community groups.
A passionate enthusiast for experimenting with traditional foods, she pursued activities like making her own wild fermented strawberry vinegar, which she used to pickle campus magnolia blossoms. We suspect she is also the only student in the history of Washington College who has grown wheat on campus, harvested and threshed it, and used it to bake bread. Julia dreamed up new campus traditions including Oktoberfest (2018 video and 2019 video) at the campus garden — a celebration with earth oven-fired pretzels and beermaking with garden hops — and spring equinox festivities (2019 video) with natural dyed eggs and traditional breads.
A superb beekeeper, Julia was just as delighted to spend time in the company of bats and salamanders and wild food research. She contemplated microbial chemistry in a way to get her peers excited about building soil fertility through compost. In the Permaculture Internship she researched and proposed tactics for turning lawns into landscapes to support native wildlife, and in the Food Initiative Internship she laid the groundwork for a community garden in Chestertown. And as the Campus Garden Intern, she led a variety of workshops in the garden, greenhouse, and made it possible to expand the garden program into the wild foods outpost at the River and Field Campus.
No matter what we are doing, Julia reminds us that we are in the presence of ideas greater than ourselves. We are grateful for her many contributions to the culture of the Food Initiative, and to the vibrant world we want to inhabit.
The George Washington Medal and Award: Kelsey McNaul
A model citizen and scholar on the Washington College campus, Kelsey leapt at the chance to embed herself in the Food Initiative programming before the building was complete, sending an eloquent and ardent declaration of the importance of working toward food system reform in conjunction with environmental justice — while she was studying abroad in Hong Kong. Upon her return to campus in Fall 2018 she committed herself to the Permaculture Internship, in which she rallied discussions around addressing social inequity by overcoming systemic disparities. She demonstrated not just a profound ability to contemplate and articulate nuanced views of how to frame paradigms for understanding culture, government, and energy, but also a simply grounded and earnest way of living that revealed her commitment to ideals.
Committed to the vegan philosophy, Kelsey carefully constructed her decision-making process about food as model to inspire others to think deeply about the implications of what they eat, and how they eat it. Without evangelizing her particular approach, she invites discussion and inquiry to help others develop their own views about their roles as consumers of food in relation to economic, social, and ecological resilience.
Kelsey leads easily and is inevitably the first to volunteer to take action, whether turning a compost pile, learning new fermentation skills, or cooking over a campfire. Despite pondering serious topics, she maintains an upbeat demeanor that is inclusive and inspirational. She became a certified fitness instructor to help others connect to themselves on a physical level — the health and vitality of her fellow humans is closest to her heart. Through the Food Initiative, she often probed us on the availability of and interactions between nutrients in food; less for her own curiosity than that she might share the information to help others.
Kelsey sees herself as one member of a great community, and is fiercely optimistic about the world we inhabit. She revels in beekeeping, delights in traveling to learn about unfamiliar cultures, and finds joy in learning how to use plants — starting with healthy soil organisms — to nourish our bodies.
We are confident that Kelsey has a great future ahead of her in food system reform, not because of her passion for food, but because it is a gateway to strengthen the web of life that connects us all. She is excited about her potential as a citizen of the world, and so are we.