OHF Reflections: Putting Things Together

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A visit to Fiery Gizzard, Tennessee for some summertime adventure

For many, summer is a time of exploration, adventure, and, as result, reflection. With sunshine and blue skies above, the call of road trips, hikes, climbs, paddles, and all other journeys of the day, get us up and away from our desks. During these days, we put ourselves in the way of nature and its beauty – reminding us of our place in it all.

The other day I was reminded of an old favorite, Mary Oliver’s The Summer Day:

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean –
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blesses, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

The last two lines of this beautiful poetic meditation on life have been burning in my mind, especially given my work with local food supply chains this summer. “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” I count myself lucky to be mentored by a powerhouse team of NC sustainable food systems leaders, and for all the learning experiences and opportunities that have crossed my path.

Given that Firsthand Foods is a food hub, their role in the Triangle’s local food scene is aggregating animals from various NC farmers, creating meat products through second party processors, and distributing these products to local retailers who otherwise would have to manage all of these relationships individually. Not an easy undertaking.

My involvement with this food supply chain has included documenting visits to our farmers and NCDA’s research stations, connecting with cooperative markets and their staff, surveying UNC-Chapel Hill’s sustainable local food sourcing model, and meeting many young people who are passionate, knowledgeable, and driven to rebuild local food economies.

Customers Appreciation Party - A mix of farmers, processors, aggregators, chefs, and many others, young and old, who put in much love and attention to our local food system
Customers Appreciation Party – A mix of farmers, processors, aggregators, chefs, and many others, young and old, who put in much love and attention to our local food system

For us youths involved in this landscape of local food, we are picking our niches, plugging in, and getting things accomplished. The spaces we carve out for ourselves – be it community gardening, farming, composting food waste, organizing, blogging, lobbying, or just getting the knowledge and facts out there (the real ones), are what many of us have chosen to do with our one wild and precious life.

A friend's organic garden in Winchester, TN
A friend’s beautiful and bountiful organic garden in Winchester, TN

With all that said, I’ve realized on the surface levels of the local food “movement” (which get most widely and quickly communicated to the masses), many of the conversations being had are saying the same things.

Local is better. We need more farmers. Resilience over production. Increase access to land. Fresher whole foods in our schools. Food access and nutrition. Sustainable farming practices. Farm workers rights. Humane animal treatment. Environmental stewardship.
Rural agriculture. Urban agriculture. American agriculture. Agrarian pride.

All of these issues and guiding principles are integral to growing, mobilizing, and strengthening local food economies, but sometimes (perhaps too often) we become rooted in cyclical discussions about the same things. We talk about the same subjects in different ways, coming up with the same solutions in different forms, which often render the same successes, the same failures, and the same frustrations.

So I ask the question – is the same improvement, really improvement?

There is an enormous grey space of what is not being acknowledged or discussed in the mainstream – unless you get into the nitty gritty of farm coalitions, community action/working groups, food policy councils, related listserves, and the like, which not many people do. But, within the fog there exists a powerful truth once realized.

What is that truth?

As human beings, we exist as part of our ecosystem, a large whole whose complexity is much greater than the sum of all its parts. The same goes for our food system. By isolating issues, we distance ourselves from the full range of possible solutions. Though we cannot alter time and retract what has already happened, we can alter the way we think about the reasons and causes behind the ways we know and experience food. I’ll endeavor to do just that by exploring some grey matter that’s been wracking my mind lately.

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This year, I’ve been closely following two issues in the food realm – the Young Farmer Success Act (HR 2590) and the Farm to School Act of 2015 (S 569 and HR 1601).

HR 2590 was introduced in Congress on June 1st by Rep. Gibson (R-NY) and Rep. Courtney (D-CT). This bill is part of a widespread effort spearheaded by the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) to address one of the biggest barriers to entry level young farmers – student loan debt. Though there are many young, educated, and able-bodied young people wanting to enter into the field, student loans hinder their ability to acquire the necessary start up loans and greatly limits the possibility for profit. Thus, many who want to and can farm, and who approach the industry with an education that is dynamic and diversified by virtue of having attained a college degree, simply can’t, or, if they do, they struggle.

In a 2012 government survey, the average age of American farmers was 58. Now, in 2015, there are many young people choosing a life of farming and we have a food system needing innovative thinkers, able bodies, and effective technological advances, especially in the face of climate change. We need those young farmers with student debt to enter in and stay in the industry because we need those college educations to strengthen our sustainability, widen diversity, and deepen the efficiency of our agricultural sector. So, what does that boil down to? We need our government to acknowledge the most blatant and paramount truth of this sector – that farming is in fact public service.

A New Hampshire farmer, who has several straw fields and makes his own biodiesel fuel
A New Hampshire farmer, who has several straw fields and makes his own biodiesel fuel

NYFC is pushing the platform of“farming is public service” as their main campaign (#FarmingIsPublicService), which is also the purpose of the bill. HR 2590 would modify the Higher Education Act of 1965 to include farming as public service, therefore adding farmers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. This program currently includes government service, nursing, and teaching, and public service professionals within this program making 10 years of income-driven student loan payments have the balance of their loans forgiven after this period.

Last week, NYFC also releaseed the results of a survey of more than 700 young farmers on the matter. Here are some highlights:
– Only a scant 6% of all US farmers are under the age of 35
– Between 2007 and 2012 America gained only 1,220 principal farm operators under 35
– During this same period, the total number of principal farm operators dropped by 95,000+
– Respondents carried an average student loan debt of $35,000
– 30% say college debt delays or prevents them from entry level farming
– 53% are farming but struggling to pay their student loans
– 20% are unable to obtain credit because of their student loans
– 28% say student loan pressure is preventing them from growing their business
– Respondents continue to value their college education, despite its cost, and think it will help make them better farmers

Students from Colby Sawyer college doing a summer program in permaculture, farming, and sustainability
Students from Colby Sawyer college doing a summer program in permaculture, farming, and sustainability

The answers speak for themselves. Student loan debt is one of the major barriers to the success of entry level farmers, as well as those currently in the field who still have payments progressing well into the future of their careers, accruing interest all along the way.

Now, let’s shift gears to the Farm to School Act of 2015.
Farm to school programming is one of the most engaging and affective approaches to child nutrition that encompasses two very important issues.

As reported by the National Farm to School Network (NFSN) and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), over 30% of all children in the US are overweight or obese. This results in more missed school days and poor academic performance. Additionally, obese children experience more medical costs throughout their lifetime – totaling a rough estimate of $14 billion.

Shifting over to the food supply, farmers receive only 16 cents of every food dollar, which is significantly lower than the 31 cents received in 1980. There are clear weaknesses surrounding child nutrition in our country and the low integrity of compensation for agricultural work.

Thus, farm to school programming engages both of theses issues in a way that improves the health of children and their families and the profitability and support of the farmers.

Produce grown in a community garden for the Penacook Community Center's Jump and Sprout program for their daycare
Produce grown in a community garden for the Penacook Community Center’s Jump and Sprout program for their daycare

So what does the act call for? SB 569, HR 1061 would expand the success of the USDA Farm to School Grant Program by:
– Enabling school districts to more flexibly include preschools, summer food service sites, and after school programs
– Increasing annual mandatory funding from $5 million to $15 million to better meet high demand and need
– Improving farm to school participation from beginning, veteran, and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers
– Enhancing access among tribal schools to farm-fresh and traditional foods, especially from tribal producers
– Identifying and eliminating regulatory and other administrative barriers to the development of farm to school efforts

Given the many successes in farm to school programming since the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010, farm to school makes sense – especially in our beautiful day and age when sodas and sugar are being identified as the culprits, and kale and milk as our friends. We’re getting farmers connected with schools, boosting their businesses as a result of increased purchase quantities. We’re getting children and their families educated about the nutrition of their food and the process around how it’s grown, empowering them to make more beneficial purchasing choices. We’re connecting the dots, but, still, we’re missing some of the links.

The grey space for me between these two efforts (HR 2590 and S 569, HR 1601) is that we are adamant about engaging farmers to produce whole natural foods that we are granting our schools to incorporate into dining services and curriculums, and calling for a forgiveness of payments for the education of our farmers. We create all these ebbs and flows of government dollars towards different efforts when a huge cultural disconnect seems to be at the heart of things.

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Young farmer Andal Sundaramurthy working Two Mountain Farm in New Hampshire. Andal was connected to Two Mountain through the NOFA-NH’s Resident Journeyperson program connecting farmers with farmland

What if a child who has had the opportunity to experience farm to school programming decides on a life of farming? Let’s call this kid Shiloh (I like this name). Shiloh becomes a member of the FFA in high school, and enters into college pursuing an education along the lines of agricultural technology, horticulture studies, or food systems. She does this in order to gain as much knowledge as possible in order to become the best farmer possible. Instead of working odd jobs during the summers, she does organic farming apprenticeships to get on the ground experience. In 4 years, she graduates with a multidisciplinary education with a focus on sustainable and organic agriculture, but, as a result of seeking a top notch education, she has incurred a large amount of student debt preventing her from affording or qualifying for the necessary start up capital she needs to be able to farm. What does Shiloh do now?

Picture this scenario on the scale of 700+ farmers and would be farmers, or 7000. Now, with the average American farmer being 58 and with less than 2,000 young principal farmers entering the field every 5 years or so, what happens when those older farmers retire? Who will be able to successfully produce the fresh wholesome foods that doctors are beginning to prescribe their patients? That are schools want in their dining halls? That our children need in their diets in order to lessen their risks for medical debt, or worse, death? Who will be producing the millions of dollars worth of farm fresh foods that the Farm to School Act of 2015 is calling for? Who will be the farmers that the bill supports?

There are many entry level barriers to farming. Student loan debt is just one, but it is a big one. I definitely urge any an all to support both bills, but beyond that, I urge you to consider the grey matter. The space that isn’t discussed. The hard truth that it is our system, our culture, and the way we’ve accepted things as being that hinders us from greater possibilities of change. I challenge you to change that, and put two and two together. Connect those links.

– E

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OHF Reflections: A Meaty Start

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Firsthand Foods meat case at Chatham Marketplace Co-op in Pittsboro, NC

Hey, all! I hope everyone is enjoying these sweet summer days. I made it through my first full week at work with Firsthand Foods, and man, have I learned a lot. Though I’ve been working with local food systems for the past year, focusing on community building and sustainable practices, my experience has mainly been allocated to produce. During that time, I was a vegetarian because I was not in a position to easily access sustainable local meat – meat that I knew where it was sourced from, what it was made out of, how it impacted the environment, and how it was produced. In other words, there just wasn’t much meat around that I could trust. As a result, my health took a turn for the worse due to lack of protein (which, by the way, increases cravings for sugar – not a fun cycle). So, I sought out information about alternative meat sources that positively feed consumers, support farmers, steward the environment, and build up the local food economy (Disclaimer: there are not many meat supply chains that fulfill this criteria). Through this search, I happened upon the North Carolina Growing Together initiative’s (NCGT) Local Food Supply Chain Apprenticeship, which connected me with Firsthand Foods.

Celebrating Chatham Marketplace's 9th Birthday!
(M)eat local! Celebrating Chatham Marketplace’s 9th Birthday, along with Chicken Bridge Bakery, Starlight Mead, Goat Lady Dairy, Fortnight Brewery, and various other marvelous local vendors.

With this being my first week on the job, I’ve been completely immersed into the world of pasture-raised local beef and pork. This week’s agenda was filled with orienting myself with our co-working office space at the Eco Hub, cattle farm visits, farmer interviews and photographs, watching cattle pregnancy checks, a visit to a halal slaughter plant, working a tasting table at one of our customer’s events, and figuring out all the relationships and jargon associated with the world of meat. There’s a beefy amount of knowledge to know, and even more puns to spice up the learning process.

Cattle at Sandy Hills Farm
Cattle at Sandy Hill Farm

Though I’m ecstatic about all the knowledge I’m gaining about cattle and hog farming, it has become quite apparent how little I actually know about meat production, processing, and sourcing – and, let me tell you, there’s a lot to know. Smaller scale producers have a hard time coming up against massive food aggregators operating on a nation-wide scale, decreasing product costs and increasing the distancing effects on knowledge, environmental implications, and fairness of wage. Fortunately, there are businesses like Firsthand Foods who operate as local aggregators and marketers for smaller scale meat producers, helping them to tell their stories and supporting their efforts to produce pasture-raised, hormone and antibiotic free meats, in a way that enriches the soil, is more humane for the animals, educates the system, supports the local economy, and tastes better for the consumers.

Jennifer Curtis, Co-CEO at Firsthand Foods
Jennifer Curtis, Co-CEO at Firsthand Foods

While working into my mind the differences between “Fat Cows” (cattle exclusively bred and raised for meat production) and “Market Cows” (cows raised for breeding, who are then used for meat), and dispelling the notion that the red liquid in and around meat is blood, it’s not – it’s just a happy mixture of moisture and muscle cells, I began to think about the ways that I and most consumers have interacted with meat. Think about the last time you ran to the grocery store for a steak or some pork loin. The likelihood was that it was already pre-cut, pre-weighed, and prepackaged, quite nicely on a styrofoam plate wrapped in seran wrap. It may have said “All-Natural”, “Pasture-raised”, “Grass-fed”, “Organic”, or something of that sort. These labels are quite helpful in navigating our choices as consumers, but still there is so much left out of the story. We may understand that the animal was raised on a pasture rather than in confinement, but what about the type of animal it was, the actual diet that it ate, what were the principles of the farmer, and what was that farmer’s relationship with the buyer, processor, and vendor of the final product?

Farmer Don York with some of his cattle at Sandy Hills Farm
Farmer Don York with some of his cattle at Sandy Hill Farm. Don raises his cattle through a rotating pasture system, whereby he diversifies their diet and the soil by use of varying cover crops. Cattle farming has been in his family for generations, and he is dedicated to integrating more sustainable practices for continued service, support, and quality for years to come.

These questions are complex and hard to answer, and not many of us have the time or interest in finding out these answers. Admittedly, these questions didn’t occur to me until I started actively seeking out meat that I felt good about eating.

Serving up local food, community, and commitment for smaller scale farmers and food providers
Serving up local food, community, and commitment for smaller scale farmers and food providers

Since then, I’ve felt good about a lot of other things. Among them are the awesome family histories associated with many of the cattle farmers I’ve met, the dedication of local co-operative markets to serving their community and supporting smaller scale farmers and producers, and about how hard it is to be a small local and sustainable fish in a pond of powerful corporate scale sharks. In no way do I think that larger food corporations are better or worse, but the climate in which both the small and little fish exist makes it quite hard for difference and alternatives to be successful. So, kudos to all those out there supporting the local, the sustainable, and the transparent, because it’ll take a lot of probing, questioning, and supporting to garner the necessary support that local food endeavors so deserve. Keep on (m)eating on!

– E

Nudging Our Way to Difference

Hello, summer!

It’s been two weeks since I graduated from Sewanee, and after time on the road visiting family and friends, I’ve finally settled down in Raleigh for the summer.

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Graduated! Could not have done it without you two

In this period of transition, I’ve been reflecting on my college experience and my current path forward. Over those 4 years, I grew – a lot. I gained a better sense of self, not only in who I am, but who I’d like to be. I developed an amazing group of friends, that, though geographically scattered, I know will always be key players in my life. Most importantly, from my liberal arts education, I learned not only to think quickly, write well, and collaborate with other people and disciplines, but also how to claim knowledge.

To the left goes Colorado, and Vermont to the right - but no matter!
To the left goes Colorado, and the right to Vermont – but no matter, that’s what planes and phones are for

Growing up, I, like many others, was conditioned to view knowledge as something to be learned – processed, if you will. In truth, knowledge is everywhere – in our kitchens, backyards, gardens, neighborhoods, gyms, offices, grocery stores, and the list goes on and on. Knowledge is everywhere – waiting for us. It’s in the stories of our neighbors, the conversations with strangers, and the stew of experiences, creativity, and ideas that occurs when people get together. It takes gumption, awareness, a discerning eye, and a humble willing spirit, to claim it. So, a huge thank you to Sewanee, for teaching me all that and more.

In thinking about my goals for the summer before heading to Vermont Law School in the fall, this notion of claiming knowledge is a bit harder to sustain in the “real world” than I thought it would be. I want to learn as much as possible about the urban food corridor developing right in my neighborhood. I want to meet local business owners and those working on the Raleigh City Farm to hear their stories. I want to read the 30+ books I’ve acquired since the beginning of the year, since I now “have time”, in “theory”, to do so. I want to deepen my yoga practice at my local studio. I want to do all these things and more, and I will (I will!), but, man, this transitional period is a bit awkward.

With no 9:00AM classes, weekly scheduled meetings, hours at the greenhouse, “breaks”, or any of my usual routine markers, the “real world” is a bit harder to navigate. I’ve been struggling to find time to read, write, and work on projects, because I’ve been unpacking, servicing my car, going to doctor’s appointments, figuring out student loan payments, and getting settled in for the summer. All very real and practical things that take a lot longer than most expect.

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Horton Grove Nature Preserve | Bahama, NC – Site for REI Outdoor School: Outdoor Photography
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The Group

In my frustration, I’ve searched for outlets to inspire and motivate me out of this post-grad funk – rock climbing, outdoor photography, volunteering, and just walking around my neighborhood to see what’s new. I was reading the June issue of Outside, and there’s a compelling Into the Wild-eqsue piece on Francois Guenot, a disenchanted outdoorsman who rejected consumerist ideals and modern societal practice, holding much disdain for the excess and waste of the world (it’s starts on pg. 74 if this guy peaks your interest). Francois trekked over 3,000 miles through Quebec, the American Southwest, California, Yellowstone, and the Alaskan peninsula, all on borrowed skis, department-store bikes, and makeshift boats. Though Francois ultimately shared the same fate as Chris McCandless, everywhere he went he connected with the community, with the people. He sought freedom, wilderness, and difference, but he cherished connection and simplicity. His adventures and journey were an admonition against capitalist excess and gear junkies who think experiencing the outdoors requires the latest and most hi-tech gear. “He challenged you to live differently.” What a thing, to live differently.

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A selfie taken by François during a 2012 pack-rafting trip. Photo: Outside Magazine, courtesy of the Guenot family

Francois’ story is at once both stereotypical and astonishing. He’s been written off by some as another ill-prepared, ill-guided wanderluster, but also remembered and admired for his commitment to simplicity, community, the natural world, and self. One of the most powerful questions I’ve ever been asked is, “What would you do if money were not an object?” How much good would you go out and do, if money were not a barrier. I think one of the most remarkable things about my generation – the too often quoted “Millennials” – is that the answer to this question for many of us, is that money is not a barrier. We are willing to take risks. We are willing to go into debt. We are willing to be poor, dirty, and vulnerable. We are willing to do the hard thing, in the hopes of achieving a better outcome – no matter what the scale.

Jez, who is heading to Greece in 3 weeks for a summer of permaculture and exploration
Jez, who is heading to Greece in 3 weeks for a summer of permaculture and exploration

One such example is my good friend Jez, who recently graduated from Yale majoring in molecular biophysics and biochemistry. Jez is going into public health, and was originally planning on dabbling in investment banking before medical school. He has since been inspired by sustainable agriculture, food sovereignty, and systems thinking – becoming an advocate for integrative approaches to health that incorporate science, economics, community dynamics, and culture. Almost a year ago, I was meeting him for lunch in New Haven telling him about WWOOFing at Pay It Forward Farm, and during our conversation he heard the word for the first time – “permaculture”. This summer Jez is headed off to Greece to get his Permaculture Design Certification. Time, change – difference.

We are nudging our way into economic markets, food systems, community groups, government organizations, law firms, hospitals, and other far off and at home places in order to make a difference. The “nudgers”, as Dr. Rebecca Dunning, Senior Research Scholar of Horticultural Science at NCSU, called us during my orientation with the North Carolina Growing Together (NCGT) initiative. We are nudging change forward. Difference, what a thing (what a thing!).

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So, in looking towards my goals for this summer, I’ve decided to aggregate them under one big umbrella goal – difference, for self and others. I’m going to go out and claim the knowledge and experiences around me, no holds barred. Starting June 1st, I’ll be working with the NCGT Initiative through the Center for Environmental Farming Systems as an 8-week apprentice. My mentoring business will be Firsthand Foods, a sustainable meat aggregator based in Durham. The focus will be marketing, social media development, and communications regarding locally sourced and sustainably raised meat, pushing forward the use of the whole animal (permaculture, yeah!), environmental stewardship, university food systems, and supporting small and middle range farmers in the larger market.

In nudging forward, this passage from one of my graduation gifts, Rebuilding the Foodshed: How to Create Local, Sustainable, and Secure Food Systems, ties together the importance of claiming knowledge, experience, and connection:

“[T]he emphasis on relationships inherent in the local food push is the most exciting aspect of it all: we are consciously making the choice to build new economic relationships, rekindle traditional ways of doing business, support those in need, and even invent new technology-based social networks that can, rather ironically, link neighbors… The narratives of this good work start to drive the numbers… It is though these stories that we move the local food agenda forward.”

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Building, rekindling, supporting, inventing, and linking stories to push things forward. In whichever cause that inspires you, whichever mission that drives you, and whatever goal you want to achieve, go out and claim all the knowledge available to you – learn the stories, but keep in mind that difference is not only in success, but in the process.

Carpe summer!
– E

Communal Times: The Greenhorns Documentary

OHF Greenhorns Flyer
Poster by artist Margaret McClain

I knew that senior year was going to be challenging but I did not anticipate being pulled in so many different directions at once. My academic pursuits, time with friends, community engagement, and time for myself (gardening, eating, sleeping, showering, all that good stuff), makes sectioning out pieces of the pie of time pretty darn tricky. Especially with this being my last semester. Wow.

I recently read a beautiful article about this dilemma – The Disease of Being Busy:

“This disease of being “busy” (and let’s call it what it is, the dis-ease of being busy, when we are never at ease) is spiritually destructive to our health and wellbeing. It saps our ability to be fully present with those we love the most, and keeps us from forming the kind of community that we all so desperately crave.”

Author Omid Safi, Director of Duke University’s Islamic Studies Center, suggests that instead of getting sapped into our daily endless lists of to-dos, we pause and take time to check in to see how our heart is doing. How our soul is doing. “When did we forget that we are human beings, not human doings?”

I’ve made my own efforts to bring more intention and awareness to this dis-ease, making time to nurture my soul and do things that bring much joy. One such effort was in the form of a small grassroots community event that I organized with my good friend Chris, along with the support of others in the community.

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Photography by Caroline Gebhart

Being involved with many of the food related groups on campus, I became aware of just how much interest there is among my peers in getting into sustainable farming and agriculture. A member of our career service department even acknowledged this, noting that they’ve never had more students come in asking about ways to get involved. Although the interest is definitely there, many of the resources available to those wanting to get into the field (literally) are unbeknownst to those seeking the information.

When I went to the Slow Money conference last fall, I sat and listened to a spunky, enthusiastic, and motivated woman, who spoke of reinvigorating the young farmer movement and mobilizing “protagonists of place” to care for our ecosystems and the future of our food. This woman was Severine von Tscahrner, a definite force, rather, power house, to be reckoned with on the local and sustainable farming scene. Severine, along with an expansive group of young farmers and a diversity of collaborators across the county make up the Greenhorns, a non-traditional grassroots non-profit organization whose mission couldn’t be stated better than the way they state it themselves – “Our mission is to recruit, promote and support the new generation of young farmers.” This mission is definitely not simply the result of to-do lists or schedules, it’s a decision to pursue a way of life that breathes community, passion, friendship, and love among humans and between us and the land.

The Greenhorns’ methodology is getting the information and tools out there for young farmers and entrepreneurs by way of on-the-ground organizing of events and workshops, media production, and online coalition building. They offer a cache of valuable resources – everything from beginner farmer’s guides to financial guidance, to navigating land access to academic papers. Other resources include their film series Our Land, short films about pollution, distribution, grazing, and seed biodiversity, and their full feature documentary The Greenhorns, which shares stories from young agrarians across the country.

I had yet to see the documentary and when I saw that it was available for a community screening, I thought, “Well, if I want to see this, other people probably do too.”
So, that’s how our little event got started. Chris and I hosted the event this past weekend at the Greenspace Collective in downtown Sewanee. We served up homemade breads (almond, beer, and whole wheat), local spreads, cookies (Chris made some pretty awesome no-bake coconut and cocoa cookies), and hot tea to keep us warm in the chilly March air.

Photography by Caroline Gebhart
Photography by Caroline Gebhart

We had all sorts of folks from the community come out – students, faculty, and community members. The vibes were all good. The energy was amazing, and the conversations afterwards left me in a state of true inspiration. How was my heart? It was full.

Photography by Caroline Gebhart
Photography by Caroline Gebhart
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Photography by Caroline Gebhart
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Photography by Caroline Gebhart

Though the event took some planning, it wasn’t about getting something “done” and it certainly wasn’t something I’d say I was “busy” with. It was something that brought people together, brought good intentions together, to cohere in a space of community, openness, and interest for the future of our food. Thanks to everyone who came out!

Chris and I Photography by Caroline Gebhart
Me and Chris
Photography by Caroline Gebhart

-E

Being Heard: Creating, Connecting & Putting Yourself Out There

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This past week I had the awesome opportunity of having my writing published on National Geographic’s The Plate, an online blog dedicated to the discussion of our nation’s food system. The published article was a reworked version of my very first blog post from last November. I was (obviously) very excited about this opportunity, given my status as a new blogger, but the journey from my first post to having a much larger audience seeing, reading, and actually wanting to know more about me and my experience was and still is crazy to me, but also very exciting.

For starters, my first post “Delayed Beginnings, Ongoing Inspiration” was a while in the making. Over the summer I had toyed with the idea of keeping a blog during my internship on the farm, as many of my friends had during their own internships and semesters abroad, but my days were busy and I had little time to dedicate to writing. At least, that was my excuse. In the fall, I returned to school after an enormously freeing and inspiring summer. I felt stifled. I felt like I was no longer advocating, acting, or working on a cause that I was so deeply passionate about. I felt trapped in a cycle of waking, learning, studying, sleeping, and repeating day in and day out. After a couple of weeks of wallowing in this self enforced state of mind, I realized that I could be doing something. Regardless of my location and my schedule, I was capable of continuing my efforts in the good food fight. I just had to find the right outlet.

One day while checking my mail at the student post office, I passed a flyer for a community event about journalism and the environmental movement. The guest speaker for this event was award-winning journalist and former CNN reporter Frank Sesno, who is now the director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at the George Washington University. Unfortunately, after checking my week’s schedule I realized the talk was during one of my classes, but, an opportunity to meet him for coffee and discussion before his talk was presented to me via email. So, I met with Mr. Sesno, along with 4 other students for some hot coffee and compelling discussion.

Frank Sesno
From Planet Forward’s Newsletter

He asked us about our interests, our passions, and was completely sincere in doing so. He shared with us his own experiences in college, working in the world of journalism, and highlighted the changes in that world today. Social media savvy, he said, is one of the biggest advantages our generation, the “Millenials”, has over our predecessors. Blogging, tweeting, and engaging with social media interfaces are highly influential and far reaching avenues to activating both our voice and potential, all of which Mr. Sesno emphasized. While he encouraged us to put ourselves out there, he also shared with us the work and mission of Planet Forward, a project of the Center for Innovative Media at the School of Media and Public Affairs that serves as an online public forum facilitating discourse of energy, climate and sustainability. Before we parted, he encouraged each of us to get out there and write something. So, the idea of blogging came up again.

In the days following, I approached various mentors about the subject and received incredibly mixed reviews. One said go out and do it! Another cautioned that I should worry about anonymity, which confused me because if no one knew it was my writing, would it still be my voice?! Another told me to ditch the idea altogether and wait until I got my Master’s or PhD so I would know what I was talking about. But, what about the whole “voice of the generation” thing? What about finding my outlet? Fortunately, a good friend of mine didn’t give me an answer when I asked for one. He asked me to ask myself if this was something I wanted, and if I cared what others would think. The answers were easy. Yes and no. So, I sat down with my computer, a cup of tea, and poured my thoughts and feelings into my writing. Into this blog.

At first, the responses from my friends and peers were enormously supportive and motivating. But once the initial hype died down, what kept me going was the fact that I was doing something. I was going out and meeting members of my local food system, and those in other locales, and asking them the hard questions for which, in this day and age, we need the answers. No longer can we go on unaware of our local resources and the good being done in our neighborhoods and communities. I realize I play only a small role in all this, but, when I sit here and type out these words, I know that I am playing some sort of role – and that’s what matters to me.

“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.”John Lennon

Fortunately, my role was acknowledged by the amazing team over at Planet Forward. After sending Mr. Sesno my blog, I was connected with Taylor Cook, a spunky, fun, and incredibly inspiring woman who serves as an outreach coordinator for Planet Forward. Taylor hails from the South and is a graduate of the University of Mississippi, where she organized several grassroots campaigns for sustainability and social justice. We Skyped one day and had a great conversation about food, farming, activism, and the increasing role young people are playing in it all today. During our talk, she mentioned my blog and asked if I would be interested in having my piece about WWOOFing featured on Planet Forward’s site and on National Geographic’s the Plate. Would I be interested? What a question. After ending a truly enjoyable conversation (I keep finding more and more reasons to love this “career” path I’m headed towards, and Taylor, you’re one of them!), I began the process of editing and expanding my work, with the guidance of Planet Forward’s managing editor, Mike DeVito. From beginning to end, it was a great experience and I am very grateful to have my writing published on both these sites.

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The connections didn’t end there. Another outlet for change and personal happiness I am pursuing this semester is with Mooney’s Market and Emporium. I’m currently working with Joan to manage the store’s garden, which, coupled with research and interviews for the blog, has reconnected me with the root (literally) of my passion. My mind is working, my hands are dirty, and my heart is full.

It's a weedy world out there
It’s a weedy world out there.

One day, while in the garden, I joined a conference call with Planet Forward. The agenda for the call was planning their Feeding the Planet Summit this coming April. When I jumped on the call, I heard a little “ding” and was prompted by Mr. Sesno to introduce myself, since at that point I was just, well, a “ding”. After introducing myself to professors and researchers from the University of Mississippi, Furman, Sewanee, and other institutions, Mr. Sesno passed kind words about my Campus Voices feature on The Plate and the Planet Forward pages. For about 45 minutes, while I weeded and tilled, I listened to propositions and plans for engaging experts, activists and students over the issues of climate change and agriculture. I was also asked for my input, which I gave breathlessly – sometimes my excited nature dispels the reality that I need to breathe. I put in my two cents advocating for permaculture keynote speakers for which I have contacts up North. Though my battery died before the call ended, I smiled, put my phone away, and continued my work in the garden. A few hours later I received an email from Taylor relaying what I missed and a promise to keep me in the loop for further developments. More smiles.

This above all; to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.

William Shakespeare

This experience has taught me that being heard is important, because we all have something to say. What’s difficult is figuring out the how. How will you be heard? By who? Fortunately, through the connections I made, and with the support of others, I bit the bullet and put myself out there, vulnerable to the virtual elements. But, what came back was not only crazy but it really was exciting. Yes, I have an article published on two pretty well known sites, but I’ve also made a few new friends, and have enriched my awareness of my own capabilities, and have honored my voice all along the way.

– E

The Future: The New, The Inspiring, and my Ensuing Confusion

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New Years fireworks in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina

Happy New Year! After a little hiatus from the keyboard, I’m back and looking forward to all the adventures 2015 has in store (I still cannot believe it’s 2015). Though we’re just a few weeks into the year, so much good has already happened.

Globally, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is celebrating the International Year of Soil. On the agenda are 120 soil-related worldwide events and projects  to celebrate the importance of this natural resource and to  support cultivation of healthy soil for the future. As FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva noted, “Unfortunately, 33 percent of our global soil resources are under degradation and human pressures on soils are reaching critical limits, reducing and sometimes eliminating essential soil functions.” Thus this year’s attention to and work with soil is critical for agriculture and food supply for the future. Some of the year’s projects include a digital soil map of the world serving as a global resource for farmers, scientists and governments, and the Soil Science Society of America’s “I Heart Soil” coloring book to engage children in the celebration.

Bean plant from last summer's growing season
It starts with the soil

Nationally, a large part of this goodness comes from the USDA and its efforts to promote conservation of agricultural lands and the development of young farmers. In the past two weeks, the USDA kicked off two huge programs – the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which will provide more than $370 million in funding to 115 conservation projects nationwide, and the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, through which $18 million in funding will be available to projects enhancing the sustainability of the next generation of farmers.

Bringing it down to a local level, New York City announced last week that plastic foam containers, including cups, plates, and the like, will be banned beginning this summer. In 2014 alone, the city collected a whopping 28,500 tons of expanded polystyrene (the stuff that makes up those containers), with 90% of that being from those lunch boxes and coffee cups synonymous with fast food, tight schedules, and a culture always on the go. The New York City council made this decision after a year long research study that concluded there was no way to properly recycle the polystyrene materials. 28,500 tons of non-recyclable, non-refundable, non-beneficial trash? A decision well made, I think.

In Seattle, a new ordinance prohibiting food waste from residential and commercial garbage took effect on January 1st. Household violators will be charged $1 for each offense, and $50 for apartment complexes and commercial businesses. Seattle is not alone in the composting arena, cities like Vancouver, Portland and San Francisco all have composting requirements. The new law is estimated to prevent 38,0000 more tons of food scraps from being dumped in an Eastern Oregon landfill each year – and that’s just by declaring food scraps, paper napkins, and pizza boxes as “not garbage”. 38,000 tons of food waste, napkins, and pizza boxes?! But, change is taking place and it’s all good.

All these changes, innovations, and projects have me incredibly inspired, but also confused. During my 8 hour drive back to school for my last semester of college (I graduate in May, yay!), a cloud was slowly developing over my head and now looms large in the form of a big fat question mark. 3 and a half years have blown by, and now here I am with graduation 14 weeks away, and a life uncharted awaiting me beyond the gates. So, what comes next?

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Research, scheduling, making plans

My passion for food culture and justice, and the experiences to which my passions led have all cemented my choice to pursue a “career” in the public sector working with sustainable food systems. Before the semester started, I attended an alumni networking conference, appropriately titled, “Beyond the Gates”. There were many inspiring, powerful, and incredibly helpful alumni in attendance, and I definitely learned a lot about the corporate hiring process, what makes a standout resume, and how to balance work and personal life. Though this is all useful knowledge in today’s working society, which I realize I will be a part of starting in May, many of the questions I have were left unanswered. What if I don’t want to work with a company where I’m just another resume on HR’s desk? What if I don’t know the “right” people? What if the “career” path I’m choosing isn’t high paying? What do I do about student loans in that case? What do I do when people tilt their heads to the side and ask me why in the world would I want to do, well, what I want to do? Being a part of the “impatient” generation, as I’ve heard “us” called, I am not only anxious to get out and start working – start helping, I’m quite confused as to how I am supposed to go about it. Is it all really a matter of navigating the mainstream or getting eroded along the cut bank?

Needless to say, I felt stressed after the conference, but also encouraged. At the conference and in life, I’ve also met those who have been hugely supportive – providing me with advice, contacts, and uplifting words. A wonderful woman who works with AT&T and their sustainability initiatives raved to me about the success of community gardens in a poor suburb of Brazil, and the farmers, small business workers, and sustainability champions I’ve encountered expressed nothing but excitement and sincere hope that my passions will be manifested in my occupation. Unfortunately, the prevailing system makes it quite difficult unless you happen to find yourself pretty financially blessed. Though they are the minority, these instances have pushed me to continue to search for avenues of support, so that hopefully, one day soon, I will be in a position where I am working with an organization out of love for what I do, and not substantiating a work life that I dread just for a paycheck.

These are some of my own concerns, but just within my friend group, there is a crazy spectrum of feelings about the future. I have a friend who is applying to PhD programs who fears unemployment if she doesn’t get in, and isn’t even sure what she’ll do after acquiring the PhD. Another friend is hoping to travel to South America, teaching English with the Episcopal Church, despite the worries of her loving, yet protective parents. Another is taking a leap of faith and moving to a city he’s never been to before in the hopes of finding a job once he’s settled. Another completely changed her mind about medical school even after taking all the required classes, being unable to substantiate the necessary time and money. I have friends who haven’t even thought of jobs or graduate schools because they’re scared of 1) being rejected, 2) doing things “wrong”, and/or 3) choosing the “wrong” thing. Others simply just want to take a break and travel, do something different.

Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless – Thomas Edison

Personally, in this culture of endless choice and instant gratification, I think we either become highly ambitious, wanting to do everything at once, or very hesitant, being too scared to commit for fear of something better coming along. If you completely disagree with that, which is fine, there’s also the matter of all the money that goes into the system – GREs/LSATs/MCATs/etc., the preparation for those tests, the school application fees, the outfits for job interviews, the gas you need to get to all these places, the energy your computer sucks up while writing countless emails, the cramps your hand suffers from writing on the nice looking “Thank You” cards you purchased to impress your potential employer/advisor, the cost of moving cities, the rent you now have to pay, the student loan letters reminding you that 1) you’re employed and can now pay them back or 2) once you are employed you will have to pay them back – with ever increasing interest no less, and all of the food that you may or may not be eating (and if you aren’t, you are therefore wasting it – see comment about Seattle), because you are so busy trying to keep up with all of these things we have to do to be “successful”. Don’t get me wrong, I think hand written notes are wonderful, I love networking, and there really is nothing else worth going into debt for than your education. But, the way it all works and the ensuing pressure, is not only stressful – it can be downright confusing.

For me, that’s where faith comes into play. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day tomorrow, and because these words have helped me through many a rough spot:

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

It really is about having faith in your decisions, especially when you don’t know how your decisions will fit into the whole “grand scheme” of things. For myself, and others wanting to pursue work with local organizations, sustainability initiatives, food justice issues, and many other realms in the environmental and social fields, it’s a hard route to navigate. But, there are many resources and avenues of support out there, which is why I’ve created a “Resource” page to highlight some of the tools available to those of us in danger of getting stuck in the cut bank.

Vermont Law School - South Royalton, VT
Vermont Law School – South Royalton, VT

In terms of future plans, I do count myself as very fortunate. One morning during Christmas break, I awoke to an email in my inbox with the subject line “Welcome to Vermont Law School!”. During my time WWOOFing in New Hampshire, I ventured over to South Royalton (if you go, definitely grab lunch at the Worthy Burger), and toured VLS. I was attracted to not only the beautiful setting of the school, but also its commitment to educating and providing invaluable resources to those wanting to pursue careers with public policy, environmental advocacy, and other not-so-high-paying fields. Their Center for Agriculture and Food Systems was also right up my alley, but what really got me was their application. They didn’t require the GRE (you could submit scores if you wished), and the essays sought out what changes I had made in my community, what changes I wanted to make in our national community at large, and what I thought VLS could help me with in pursuing these aspirations. I wasn’t a number that either did or didn’t make the cut, and I wasn’t someone they just wanted to add to their statistics. That spoke volumes to me. I am incredibly excited to have been accepted to their Master of Food and Agriculture Law and Policy program, and I truly believe my experience pursuing the masters would serve me well in my planned “career”, but the question of “how?” comes up again. Graduate school is not cheap, and they are also a business, no matter how much good they produce. Money must go in, for services to come out.

A brochure I received from VLS. My personal favorite "Why VLS" reasons include: Snowshoeing out of your backdoor, maple sugaring at professors' houses, and feeling like part of a family.
A brochure I received from VLS. My personal favorite “Why VLS” reasons include: Snowshoeing out of your backdoor, maple sugaring at professors’ houses, and feeling like part of a family.

So, that’s next on my list, figuring out scholarships, fellowships, and alternative options, but during this journey I’ve learned one truly valuable lesson – to be comfortable with confusion. You can never know everything, which is why things are new. It’s why they’re inspiring. It’s also why they’re confusing – but hey, with a little foot work and a whole lot of faith, life may stick you somewhere you never thought you’d be, and that you never thought you’d like. But then it turns out you do. And then it’s all good.

– E

Faith in Food: Looking Back at 2014

The beauty and stillness of winter in the Smokies
The beauty and stillness of winter in the Smokies

2014 what a year you have been – for me, for many. I split this Christmas season between the hustle and bustle of my home in Raleigh, and the peace and quietude of the Great Smoky Mountains. This dichotomy facilitated both excitement for the holiday festivities, but also the necessary time and space for contemplation and reflection. On Christmas Eve I attended the Festival Eucharist of Christmas service at Christ Church near my apartment in downtown Raleigh. The service was beautiful. The congregation was dressed in their very best with suits and dresses, reds and blacks, and a Scottish kilt or two. Amongst the vibrant poinsettias and golden accents, weaved the spirit of Christmas, of reverence, of peace, of hope, reverberating with the chants of O Come All Ye Faithful and harmonious whispers of Silent Night. The Reverend James P. Adams gave an amazing sermon about the hopefulness and vulnerability that pervades us all, as well as our faith in the fact that everything will be OK.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. Isaiah 9:2

This year was one that I marked, “the year Eva would find herself”. Did I find myself? How do you even measure that? But,  the people I met, the adventures I went on, the chances I took, and the many new, hard, crazy, and joyful experiences I had – they all pushed me. They pushed me out of my comfort zone, out of former conceptions of reality, and out of doubt in myself. I don’t know if I found all of myself per se, but I did realize a whole heck of a lot about who I am, what I believe, and what I want to do with this one life I’ve been given. A light of sorts shining from above and within.

Pure joy courtesy of 2014
Pure joy – Pay it Forward Farm 2014

The UN marked 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF), emphasizing the importance of traditional agricultural practices, international food security, and the fact that family farming is deeply and inextricably linked to national and global food security – out of the 570 million farms in the world family farms make up 500 million and are responsible for at least 56% of global agricultural production. Clearly, our world’s small scale farmers are vital to our global subsistence, especially in the good ol’ USA, where 83% of our land is managed and farmed by family farms. Through their local knowledge and sustainable farming methods, these family farmers can improve yields and create a much more diversified and nutritious food system. But, as the IYFF and organizations like Civil Eats, Food Tank, Wholesome Wave, the Greenhorns and a host of others emphasize, there is still much to be done. Small scale farming is still highly underestimated, unsupported, and, quite frankly, assaulted and overshadowed by the global corporate food system. But awareness is growing, support is spreading, and change is happening. How do we measure this change? I don’t know that either – I don’t set the metrics, the scales, the quotas, or whatever else those who check off and say, “OK, yeah things have changed” use. But the beautiful thing is, we don’t really need all of that. When we see change in our communities, when we assist in its occurrence, when we feel it, we know that it’s happening.

An abundance of projects and movements have occurred over the past 12 months all over the nation. This year saw the USDA awarding over $52 million in grants to grow organic and local food, Vermont’s continued support of its GMO labeling law, the National Young Farmers Coalition petition for farmers’ student loan support, the commission for the nation’s largest food hub in Louisville, Kentucky, Todd Workman’s plan and progress in revitalizing the poorest city in New Hampshire using permaculture philosophy, the continued support of farmers and good food at the well loved Farm Aid concert, the continued drive to sustain family farming into and throughout 2015, and many conferences in support of farmers, good food production, and access to that good food, such as Slow Food, Slow Money, and Slow Tools, all in an effort to ease the struggle of humanity’s slow death. The beautiful thing about all this, the thing that outshines the quotas, the scales, the metrics – is that these efforts are only a minutiae of the food system efforts that are occurring on national and global levels.

A gathering of those committed to change - Slow Money 2014
A gathering of those committed to change – Slow Money 2014

The teachings of permaculture now grace more flyers, libraries, classrooms, and organizations than ever before. I’ve encountered so many this year who either have their PDC (Permaculture Design Certificate) or are hoping to pursue one in the near future. Urban gardens, farmers markets, farm-to-fork restaurants, exposing documentaries, compelling books, eye opening studies, and the ‘organic’, the ‘sustainable’, and the ‘green’ – it might just be me, but these entities seem to be in almost every city, on every social media interface, and bridging all generations. I’ve never seen the words ‘local’, ‘farm fresh’, or ‘all natural’ in basic grocery stores more in my life, but as many of us know, those terms are tricky when it comes to corporate food production. But, as 2014 demonstrated, corporate food production is having to put up a fight – to either sink or swim, to either change their practices or face the music and suffer losses. Why? Because of change. Our nation’s people no longer want food that is harmful to their bodies, harmful to the people who produce it, and harmful to the environment it is grown in. They have voted for better, for slower, for fairer. They have voted for change. Great things are happening, with much more to come. The light is definitely shining.

As I write this, I think about the many inspiring and provoking articles and news pieces I’ve read this year.  They detailed various projects and progress made in various locales, and I smile now as much is occurring in my own locale of Raleigh. During the Christmas eve service, Rev. Adams noted that the offerings from all 5 Christmas services would be made towards the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry, an organization that responds to the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their families. Businesses like Happy and Hale, Poole’s Downtown Diner, Videri Chocolate, Wine Authorities, and Yellow Dog Bakery, and organizations like the Raleigh City Farm, Slow Money NC, and Interfaith Food Shuttle celebrate another year (some celebrating their first or second years) of providing local, sustainable, and wholesome food products to our community, while raising the necessary awareness about family farmers and the plate of hunger.

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Picking up donations at Whole Foods

This past Monday, my partner Patrick and I spent the day volunteering with Interfaith Food Shuttle. We woke up to a dark wintery sky and headed out to the organization’s headquarters. We were “Warehouse Warriors” for the day, and would be accompanying a staff member of the Transportation and Distribution department on their driving route. Our volunteer leader was Erik, an energetic, friendly and dedicated member of the Interfaith team hailing from Brooklyn, NY. We had 8 stops, 4 hours, and just enough room for 3 in the front of the truck, rendering quite the recipe for quick friendship!

Erik and his family moved to Raleigh about a year ago so that his children could benefit from the North Carolina education system. Since we were spending the day collecting food donations, I asked him what his views were on natural and organic foods. Though he admits that organic and local food is often more expensive, he thinks it is important to incorporate what you can into your diet. He also emphasized that many people cannot even begin to think about buying natural, organic, or local, they are just preoccupied with getting any food at all on their plates at all, which is one of the aims of Interfaith – to increase local food knowledge and access through their teaching farm and by sourcing donations from local businesses.

Erik, our fearless leader for the day
Erik, our fearless leader for the day

Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, BJs Warehouse, Walmart, Fresh Market, and the Butcher’s Market were some of the stops on our route. Our day consisted of driving to each of these locations, pulling up to the loading dock, walking into the business and loading the prepared food donations into the truck.  At every location there were carts full of produce, baked goods, meats, and other food products – and to my pleasant surprise, the majority of these donations were natural, sustainable, or organic products. Also surprising, was the quality and amount that was donated. Many popular holiday items like pumpkin pies, hams, and salad mixes, and other favored products like coffee, milk, fresh fruit and veggies, and various other snack items were in abundance. These were not the traditional canned or boxed items that I have often experienced with organizational food drives. We filled the truck by the time we arrived at the last pick-up location, but the day was not without struggle.  At one location we encountered donations that, despite Erik’s strength and experience, would have been far too heavy and poorly packaged for one person to handle and were difficult even for the 3 of us. But, we managed what we could and were grateful to each business for their gifts.

Patrick and Erik organizing the many donations
Patrick and Erik organizing the many donations

After 4 hours and 6,226 pounds of mostly natural, organic, local and wholesome food products loaded into the truck, we drove to our delivery location at Catholic Parish Outreach (CPO). After unloading the many boxes and pallets stacked with food, I asked a CPO staff member about where the food goes. Their organization feeds just over 11,000 families and distributes about 250,000 pounds of food each month. As I looked around while we unloaded, I saw many families rolling carts to their cars with bags filled with the very items we had unloaded. It was apparent. I could see it. I was participating in it. I could feel it. Change was and is happening, and the light is spreading – through awareness, support, and, most importantly, faith. Faith in God, in local food, in those who produce it, in those who distribute it, in those who advocate for its justice, and in the hope that everything really will be OK. Thank you Erik and Interfaith Food Shuttle, for such an uplifting and enjoyable volunteer experience.

2014, looking back at you, I am filled with much joy and gratitude, as well as the faith to say goodbye and turn my gaze forward to the coming new year.

Wishing you and yours an awesome, adventurous, and happy New Year!

– E

 *The views expressed in this article are not affiliated with any of the mentioned business or organizations, but are those of Erik, who agreed to participate, and Our Hungry Food.