In teaching another group at NorthStar, I was again surprised, overwhelmed, encouraged, exhausted and perplexed. I spoke with our Director of Operations, Susan about this and she provided perspective. In explaining to her that I was teaching in Watts 30 (again that large number) years ago, I thought I was prepared for an urban teaching setting. Susan explained that 2 generations makes a big difference. It hit hard. Years of struggling and never seeing results or experiencing change, hardens everything. Especially hope. Those four-year-old students, may have spent years working several jobs, watching their children get shot, dreaming about success following their passions and contemplating a way to get out...all these things but nothing about their circumstances changes. Responsibility for this aside, hardened hearts and weak spirits result. What I experience in the classroom is just a little taste of their tough reality. These kids are used to people not showing up, not keeping their word, and having to figure out things for themselves. The support I offer isn’t trustworthy, because they haven’t been able to trust many or much at all.
This week I started another program delivery of Building IoT + Local Food Systems. These learners were rising 9th graders, the difference between them and the rising 7th graders was notable. They were taller, they were quieter and they look more intently at me. At first, it was off putting but then, it was refreshing.
Their questions, their input and their engagement was at such a different level than the others that I found myself more excited and engaged. Perhaps, it’s because it was my third go round for delivering the content, or else it was my dear cousin’s encouragement to pray this:
ask God to give you a love for each student, to open your eyes to their incredible value to Him....kids know when their teacher loves them....and they respond with tenderness and vulnerability that they don't risk in most places or with most of the people in their lives.
Teaching learners about the local food system has opened my eyes to things I’ve taken for granted. I grew up eating what came off the farm where I lived. I didn’t think that was special, actually quite the opposite. I’ll never forget when friends from California came to visit us on the farm and brought a Chef Boyardee Pizza Kit. Pizza on the farm...Pizza from a box! This memory is powerful. I don’t remember it being flavorful but it was pizza. I don’t think Mom before Chef Boyardee arrived.
It wasn’t fun to eat carrots and onions and strawberries from your own backyard. It was boring and hard work. Eating from your yard meant planting, watering, weeding, harvesting, cleaning and cooking. Not nearly as fun and opening a box and cans. The fascination with industrially produced foods seemed normal for us as we rarely ate away from home, so whenever we could get processed foods we were thrilled.
And today, I’m 180 degrees away from this. I realize now how great our diets were 50 years ago and beyond. Limited chemicals, limited preservatives, seasonal eating and locally produced vegetables - concepts highly touted in foodie circles today but it was all we had as hard working farm families years ago.
This past weekend was spent back on that farm, gardening with my mom just like old times. I could spend all my hours there. Not only nostalgic, it is also good for my soul to witness food growing. Growing what you eat is fun.
Wow! I’ve forgotten so much about teaching, but the NorthStar rising 7th graders helped me to remember, painfully at times. This, in addition to publicly admitting that 30 years ago I started teaching in the inner city of Los Angeles. Another pain point!
I remember my first group of learners, 4 years old, as being curious and quiet. Once they trusted me, the noise level rose but so did their level of engagement. I found myself going into school earlier each day so I could create new learning centers and activities for them. I don’t remember their disrespect or annoyance, but that could have been their age, or mine!
The group of learners I just taught were 10 years older and much more hidden from me. They didn’t seem to care about what I said, or what innovation I shared or what their neighbor told them about the internet of things, all that mattered was feigning apathy, or so it seemed to me. My colleagues at work encouraged me that this age of learner just wants to act cool, actually attending to the teacher makes you uncool. Nancy, my boss, explained that if I can gain their trust, let them know that I care about them, I should consider my time with them a success. This is new learning for me.
As I’m processing this to prepare for the next delivery, I’m thinking of ways to incorporate a faster pace and delivery of content, use music effectively and engage the learners who are interested, allowing the others to go sit on the sidelines. To me, much of this goes against what I believe as a teacher. So, I’m changing my own paradigms, not an easy or desirable task!
And I guess this is what hurts the most, I'm not sure this past group of learners know that I did care about them learning. How do you share your heart when the disdain and disrespect is the strongest emotion in the room?
This week was my first week teaching The Internet of Things +Local Food Systems at NorthStar Academy. Here is their program description:
NorthStar programming is intended to provide additional academic, athletic and social opportunities for student success. NorthStar serves boys in grades 3 – 8 through an open enrollment process.
I was nervous to get started. Momma and I spent the better part of three days redesigning the curriculum when I was in tears over it late last week. Her 33 years of teaching expertise provided the much needed bench strength for me to gain comfort in knowing and managing the content. I was still apprehensive as I as my audience entered the classroom at 9 am on Monday morning. It was their first day of summer school, or “programming” and I assumed my teaching experience in inner city LA would help relate to these learners. Little did I realize that the 30 years that has past (Yes, it has been 30 years! That’s another blog entry.) had created an entirely different learner audience. These “rising 7th graders” are a tough audience, I left the first day disappointed, exhausted and forlorn. After gaining counsel from our Head of Operations and CEO, Susan and Nancy, I felt more prepared to return to the class for Day 2. They encouraged me to work on trust in the learners, create experiences that help them see that I care. Forget about the content of the Internet of Things or Local Food Systems, let them know I care. Today, I just completed Day 3 and have honed my expectations to be more realistic but am still learning the steps to this different tap dance I continue to modify from my days teaching PreK in Watts.
This past week, my Aussie friend, Beth, joined us for lunch during Restaurant Week at our Culinary Workforce Training Program. She was unaware of No More Empty Pots, our Food Hub nor our CWTP. As a PhD in Zoology, Beth travels the world frequently but also digs into her community in Omaha. She is actively engaged with neighbors and friends who need rides, help figuring out aspects of life and just need someone to listen to them. Beth doesn’t shy away from hard stories or hard work and was eager to learn more about the Food Hub and No More Empty Pots’ work after entering our world. She wanted to know how we found people for our programs, how our programs found our people, where the produce was sourced and what we did with the food we produced. Then she saw the shared use kitchens where one of our entrepreneurs was baking cookies and learned about our program for entrepreneurs. She was intrigued and capped off her tour by cornering Nancy, our CEO and Founder, to ask about specific people she knew who could benefit from our program. Seeing Beth’s curiosity and kindness piqued by stepping into the Pots’ environment helped me to understand what a unique environment this truly is.
I’ve been trying to quit multi-tasking because I’ve read research and personally experienced the frazzled way I approach life when unfocused. This has been clear recently as I find myself going to get a stamp, stopping to open a cookbook, going outside to get the paper, starting to empty the dishwasher, looking for my coffee cup...all while I am holding the envelope desirous of a postage stamp. I shake my head and chastise myself for this ridiculous behavior at 6 am, only to continue it throughout the day.
I’ve gone so far as to sign up for a program called “Be more with less” about minimizing your options, commitments, etc. It has started me thinking differently. Today, I found a tweet and watched this video on Concentration. It isn’t a long video, not even 10 minutes long. But I found myself distracted as the speaker was explaining how concentration helps us remove things that dilute our lives. I reached for a check that could be written, decided to check work email and thought about getting more water. It was laughable.
But a big clue to getting better at being me. If I truly want to focus and think deeply about my priorities in order to effect the changes I want to see, I need to concentrate. The lingering line I know we’ve all heard was her last: What do you your habits say about your priorities?
A New Narrative
Michael Rozyne concluded his lecture by stating that we don’t need to convince someone of your values, you just need to share one pragmatic common goal.
I want to pull apart the first part of that sentence. I find it interesting that most conversations I experience (if they can be called conversations) are centered on convincing someone that they are wrong and more importantly, they are limited in their thinking. Usually the person listening is assumed to disagree with the speaker’s position. Usually it is assumed that the reason the listener disagrees with the speaker is because they are lacking in some way: intelligence, sensitivity, being informed, and a willingness to see the world from another’s viewpoint. These conversations are rife with sound bytes and authoritative speech which negates opening a discussion. The end goal for the speaker seems to be to make a point and win the argument, even though this is a conversation.
When I’m the listener in this type of question, that is usually all I do. I used to think it was because I didn’t have my facts correct, or know enough to participate fully. On reflection, it is because I don’t feel safe. I don’t mind discussing things I don’t know, how do you learn? I do mind assumptions that are made of me because of the way I look or how I assumed to have voted.
Michael’s lecture cheered me, it made me hopeful that conversations can be had when we have different values as long as we share a common goal. He believes we are all capable of creating a New Narrative. I look forward to having conversations that aim to create a New Narrative on all sorts of topics. Michael’s new narrative that he encouraged us to see is that sustainably, responsibly grown and economically available produce would allow for more people to have better food to eat. This has opened me up to not being an “organic only” proponent but being open to this new type of thinking. I’m excited to see how this works with our first visit to the farmer’s market under our belt.
According to cognitive science, we have two kinds of thinking – fast and slow.
Fast thinking is based on your intuitions, its automatic. Fast thinking only works with ideas that are already in your mind. Fast thinking is unfriendly to new facts.
Slow thinking requires great thinking effort. Slow thinking system feels like it is in charge of your decisions. But it actually is not. Fast thinking is the one that runs your show.
In order to change yours or someone else’s fast thinking, we need to reframe situations. Frames are the stories we tell ourselves about how the world works. If you have a purist who consumes only organic, how to you reframe their situation? For me, explaining how sustainably grown is sometimes just as good as organic and connecting this to your food system perspective makes the most sense. Some farmers cannot afford to be certified or cannot get a crop unless they use IPM (Integrated Pest Management), are growing sustainably to the best of their ability. I want to support their efforts.
What do you think?
I attended the National Good Food Network conference in New Mexico in late March. One of my favorite lectures was by Michael Rozyne who stated that there is an important difference between being a purist and an essentialist about organic foods. This was new territory for me because I believe (or did believe) so strongly in being an organic purist.
Michael wrote a book, “What are we Fighting/Collaborating For? He had three main points in his lecture: Survival, The Story First, Why Collaborate? In Survival, Michael explained that he has a dear friend, John Lyman, a local apple and peach farmer who became allies in their stance on IPM (Integrated Pest Management). In New England, it is almost impossible to grow organic fruit so both of these farmers use synthetic pesticides (IPM). Because of their solidarity on this issue, Michael was unsettled when he learned that John believed in intelligent design and a young earth, because Michael believed in evolution. They came to an agreement, and it wasn’t just to agree that they could disagree but it was to listen to the other person’s perspective.
In these days of polarization on everything from politics to potty rooms, I was elated to hear this. I long for actual discussions of topics without opinions defying opposing viewpoints. Michael went on to explain how this transpired, by stories. I’ll discuss reframing through stories next week. Back to purists and essentialists. While it is great to have organic food only, 1% of all produce grown in the US is organic, so what’s everyone supposed to eat? This attitude doesn’t take into account what it means to be a responsible grower. There are plenty of growers who maintain sustainable practices, they use cover crops to create more organic matter. They may not be able afford organic certification but they are still producing good produce. Customers that are more interested in prices are okay to look at conventionally grown produce if it responsibly grown.
Michael ended this section of his lecture by saying that we live surrounded by synthetic products but people are against using synthetic pesticides. I read a book a few years back called Essentialism, I think it’s time to check it out from the library for a refresher. I’ve been an “organic only” gal for some time now, I want to learn more about the farmers who grow sustainably and responsibly. That I’ll need to learn more about as well.
I'm in a new role in a new space now. I'm excited to be engaged at No More Empty Pots. It is a food hub in North Omaha, creating ways to bring nutritional and local food into a food desert community. Our mission is to connect individuals and groups to improve self-sufficiency, regional food security and economic resiliency of urban and rural communities through advocacy and action.
Moving into a non-profit organization has been powerful. The glaring difference between this and the corporate environments I've experienced is that this is about people not the bottom line. It's taking time to adjust to different expectations and outcomes, but they feel more in line with who I am.
One of things I do each week is write a "6 word story". It's a way to capsulize our work meaningfully. I thought it would be great to share these here.
I've read a lot of about multitasking and the negative effects of this method. Even while I've learned that it's not good for many reasons, I succumb to it's draw. While I'm posting, I have a thank you letter to write on my left, pictures to transfer from phone to laptop, book club dates for 2016 to send out, etc. We all know the drill. It is seen as an asset in today's culture.
I've found another approach to limiting my multi-taskedness and that is to embrace slowness. Yes, slowness. It was this article from Shane Parrish, on Farman Street that helped me realize steps I could take to slow myself, my work, my mind...down.
Points that made sense to me were: We live in a world with more information than ever yet we understand less. Understanding comes from focusing, chewing, and relentlessly ragging on a problem. Thinking requires time and space. It's slow. It means saying I don't know. We're expected to have an opinion about everything and yet our time to think is near zero. we have more opinions than ever but have less understanding.
Instead of thinking deeply, or letting an idea simmer in the back of the mind, our instinct now is to reach for the nearest sound bit. In modern warfare, correspondents in the field and pundits in the studio spew out instant analysis for the vents as they occur. Often, their insights turn out to be wrong. But that hardly matters nowadays: in the land of speed the man with the instant response is king. The electronic media is dominated by what one French sociologist dubbed "le fast thinker" - a person who can without skipping a beat, summon up a glib answer to any question.
"Fast and slow do more than just describe a rate of change. They are shorthand for ways of being, or philosophies of life. Fast is busy, controlling, aggressive, hurried, analytical, stressed superficial, impassion, active, quantity-over-quality. Slow is the opposite: clam, careful, receptive, still initiative, unhurried, patient, reflective, quality-over-quantity. It is about making real and meaningful connections - with people, culture, work, food, everything" The Red Queen Effect, Shane Parrish.
Fast eats time. One consequence of fast is that we make poor decision after poor decision. Poor decisions eat time. And in a culture where people wear busyness as a badge of honor bad decisions actually lead us to think that we're doing more.
Many of my perceptions and understanding about farming and growing things have changed dramatically since I started my apprenticeship at EarthDance Farms. Trying to list them would be difficult because they morph into each other. One way to capstone this would be to focus on observation.
My childhood experience of observing would be to note when the plants needed watering, weeding, harvesting and removal. I learned what a mature green bean, eggplant, tomato or strawberry looked like and became adept at harvesting. Weeding, while it took understanding of what was/was not a weed, was a simple yet constant task in our farm garden. Overripe fruit was always a treat to find, especially if a sibling or shed was nearby to receive a rotten tomato or cucumber boat.
We would observe our auntie’s gardens too, if we choose to go on the Sunday strolls through on them on their farms. I would usually start off with the tour but rarely made it to the end, unless it was fall and we’d end up in the apple orchard.
But that was the extent of my observing. Perhaps it was my age but I am convinced it was more the setting.
At EarthDance Farms these past four months, I’ve been taught how to observe many things. Flight paths of the honey bees, chickens that are ramming into the electric fence, beans falling over because of their proximity to the green house fans, just to name a few!
Monica’s gift of observation and ability to teach us how to observe has affected how each of us engages with our fieldwork. We don’t grab a bug that we find crawling across the zucchini leaf but we first observe. We decide what kind of bug it is in order to figure out if it is harmful or beneficial to the plant. If we don’t know what kind of bug it is, we ask snap a shot of it on our iPhones and google the image to see if we can learn more about it. If it’s a new bug we are unfamiliar with, they we observe it to see what we can learn.
Observe her cherry tomato fashion statement.
When we all were getting stung by our farm bees for several weeks, Monica observed that it was the probably because of the new constructed high tunnel. It was in the way of the bees’ flight pattern to/from their hives and they were confused.
One day, when I was harvesting kale with another Farmy, Steven, we noticed there was a chicken outside of the fence. Another Farmy, Daikon Dave, picked up the chicken and returned to inside the fence. As we watched the chicken join up with the brood, we noticed that other chickens started ramming the fence from the inside trying to get out. It was such odd behavior. So, of course, we went to Monica. She observed the chickens for a bit, looked around and thought aloud, which I appreciate a lot! Monica noted that on this particular day on the farm, there was a road being constructed through the farm. There was a dump truck and a bobcat making all sorts of noises…loud ones. While we were not affected by this commotion, evidently the chickens were. Monica believed that they were trying to get away from the noises that were less than 50’ from their coop and fence. AMAZING!
Then there's the green beans. They were growing well, beginning to size up and then suddenly all of the plants were lying down, looking like something had knocked them over. Indeed it had. Monica observed that the green house fans had kicked in during the hot spell we were experiencing. The fans were blowing air out of the green house into guess where? The green bean paddock, so the beans were blown over by the green house exhaust fans.
I’ll conclude with a quote from one of my favorite farmers, Wendell Berry and a fabulous fennel for you to observe.
If we represent knowledge as a tree, we know that things that are divided are yet connected. We know that to observe the divisions and ignore the connections is to destroy the tree.
I’d never been on the “seller’s side” of a farmer’s market and was a bit nervous as I anticipated the event. It was interesting to observe how people wandered into our stand. Some had their eye on something and walked directly towards it, others were scanning as they approached and still others, looked for eye contact.
Today’s market bounty was heavy on fresh greens: Arugula and Super foods Mix (baby greens of the kale family, AKA Mesclun Mix). Also, we had an abundance of tomatoes including cherries, heirlooms and the “eat today” type. To round out the tables, we had green, yellow and purple beans, squash, cucumbers, basil, okra, three types of kale and collard greens.
Quite a few customers sampled and then purchased. These were my favorite customer interactions. The looks on their faces if they’d never tasted sun gold tomatoes which we describe as “magic in your mouth”. Others were new to arugula, and purslane which my mom and dad consider “weeds”. One woman thanked me several times for sampling with her.
My two biggest takeaways from the market were:
1. The power of sampling! Matt was great about engaging people to sample the greens. People, who may not have even entered our area, came in after the sample and more times than not, bought something.
2. The power of socializing! I’ve been to Farmer’s Markets across the globe…this was different. People were there to purchase, but more importantly, they were there to enjoy their community. The Ferguson you see on the news is not the Ferguson at the Farmer’s Market. These are people who value connecting, conversations and cooking. Whether they listened to the great band, bought breakfast tacos, wandered and looked around, this was a favorite pastime for them. No one seemed in too big a hurry or too important to have time to visit.
As I said at the beginning of this post, I was not looking forward to this market shift. But I enjoyed my time at the Ferguson Farmer’s Market. Julie and Matt were great partners, but my favorite part – watching Molly Rockamann, the EarthDance Founder and Director, hula hoop with Matt LeBon!
She loves living life!
Our August 18th EarthDance field talk was about Wholesale Marketing. Matt LeBon did a great job of explaining all the steps of marketing your vegetables to the wholesale audience. In summary, this is what he explained.
Before marketing, you’ve already decided what you want to grow – and why you want to grow it. Does your space lend itself to greens or orchards or a multiple array of vegetables? Do you just want to grow berries? Once you’ve figured this out and you begin to grow food, then its time to thinking about how to to market it.
If you are going to start growing in the spring and hope to supply your produce to local chefs, start the conversation in the fall. Make an appointment with the restaurant chef and then take in your wares for them to sample. Always take in a sample of what you’ll be producing next season. While this may be difficult to do sometimes (e.g. I won’t have berries until June), sampling is key.
Always have an idea of what price you will ask for your produce. Typically, the price will be about 20% less than what you’d sell the produce for at a farmer’s market. A Price Sheet shows not only professionalism but understanding of your business, your clients and the relationship you are building.
The optimum arrangement is for chefs to tell you what they think they’ll want prior to the season. For example, a chef may order 20# of kale for the 12 weeks you’ll have kale. Or mixed greens for as long as you can supply them.
Matt sends his chefs pictures throughout the week of what is looking good on the farm. This allows the chefs to think ahead and plan for the week to come. Also, if a chef is expecting husk cherries from you and you are out, try and find another farmer to supply the produce. When you check on your chef’s order early in the week, you mention that even though you’re out of husk cherries, farmer XYZ will deliver the cherries instead of you. This saves the chef the legwork and makes you more of a partner in his business.
Matt suggested a farm visit for your chefs…this makes a huge difference when they can see where their food is from…just like everyone. It creates a connection.
Since chefs are our #1 marketing, by sharing our produce with their customers, giving us a nod when they do “EarthDance Salad” on their menus, like Chef Rex Hale does at The Restaurant at the Cheshire.
EARTHDANCE FARMS LOCAL GREEN SALAD Lemon Anchovy Vinaigrette, Soft Boiled Farm Egg
While I’m not sure how and if I’ll be marketing like Matt suggested, it was good to learn the fundamentals of what to do. This coming Saturday, I’ll be working the Farmer’s Market for EarthDance. Excited to see what this will be like!
Is the Urban Harvest’s Food Roof in downtown St Louis. Mary Ostafi has created a haven for food in an urban setting. Her love for the soil and it’s health, shows in the ways she cares for the Food Roof, her plants and her volunteers. A dear friend and fellow farmy, Brett Hilling, made the introductions and I started volunteering at Food Roof the first week of August. In my first conversation with Mary, she explained that she started Urban Harvest STL because she wanted to grow food where she lived. As an architect, moving to downtown St Louis most recently from Chicago, she wanted to grow her own food. Three years later...she has created this urban, roof top farm, Food Roof!
I’ve learned a couple of similarities and differences between organic farming on the ground, lots of ground…and on the roof top with a limited amount of ground.
Pests will find your treasures no matter what. Managing them is the same: careful observation, decisions on how to remove (usually finding and squishing) and how to go forward to alleviate the pressure.
Sunlight/Air flow seems to be different in that there is no shade on the roof top and the air has nothing to stop it’s flow.
Rain storms wreck more havoc on the roof top, there is less protection so the little plants are all on their own against the wind and rain.
My job as rainmaker every Wednesday when I show up is to begin by watering the beds. Then I take on any tasks Mary has on her white board. The first week, Luis and I planted basil.
The next week, I cleaned up debris in the beds and tasted micro greens that Jeff is growing. AMAZING!
I wasn’t aware of how much eating would accompany farming. It reminds me of my favorite quote of Wendell Barry – Eating is an agricultural act!
Farming has become even more exciting the past month. It wasn’t a spiral of silence initiated from my blog, but rather a lack time to write for the blog…when I was writing a proposal.
Yes, it's true. Last week, Glen and I delivered our Centene Farm Proposal and it was met with great approval and enthusiasm. The Centene Executive we presented to is ready to take the idea forward, first of all to his peers for internal shepherding before approaching the President/CEO.
His appreciation of the goodwill it would create in the local community, coupled with the connection to national models of urban farms and businesses as well as the boost to the health of employees made it a big win. Glen's idea to compare the community benefits other large St Louis companies provide to what the Centene Farm could bring, hit the ball out of the park.
It was a herculean effort to create a presentation from 6+ feet of brain-boarding to tell the story simply. Three of my dear friends, Aimee Muirnin Zander, Nicole Westrick and Audra Frick all swarmed in to deliver their expertise on the project.
Aimee, of Navigating Networks, helped me develop my business canvas. Thinking through my value proposition, key contributors and revenue streams helped me define what differentiated me. It was arduous and she even made a house call during the thick of it all.
Nicole, an associate provost at Temple University, arrived from Philadelphia for our weekend together, unaware of the hours she's dedicate to combing through the presentation, tightening it up to a mere 9 pages.
Then Audra, of Frick Design House, took our concept and added visual design that provided a fantastic, flawless finish to the presentation.
So, as we wait to hear about next steps, I'm updating my CV to include "Urban Farm Advisor"!
On Monday, June 29, Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries, spoke at a nearby hotel. Vanity Gee, a partner on another project Nothing Yet had told me about Greg and his ministry. I visited his the Homeboy booth at the famer’s market in Santa Monica a few months back and our book club is reading his book, Tattoos on the Heart, next month. So Greg came highly recommended and I was overwhelmed by his simple, straight message.
Greg Boyle is a Jesuit priest, typically Jesuits are more involved in social justice and helping the wounded in life. His words sang a sweet song to my soul. Here are some of the items he shared.
We are called to stand at the margin. Mother Teresa said, “We’ve forgotten that we belong to each other.”
Kinship is key. With no kinship, there is no peace. We lionize service and forget that it’s about connecting.
Service is the 1st step that gets you in the hallway to someone’s heart. Why do we have to look at us and them? It’s hard to demonize people you know.
Why can’t we realize that we are all healing?
What’s all this measuring about?
WOW! This one struck home with me…why are we constantly measuring? Not as smart, as capable, as quick, as funny, as savvy…ugh!!!
Greg explained an interesting concept that I’ve thought about in other situations. He said that tonight was "not what I go to, it’s where I will come from". Every event, interaction, contemplation changes the way we go forward.
Our own wounds welcome the wounds of others. If we don’t heal our own wounds, we cannot help the wounded.
Joy is loving the enemy. Are we fear driven or joy driven? If you are ruled by sadness and fear, this is a sign you are off-center. The key is to focus on hope and joy.
It’s about the joy of the gospel, not the demand of doctrine.
Tenderness should be our methodology.
And this is the one that has resonated in my heart time and time again since I heard Greg speak: God is too busy loving us to be disappointed.
You don’t have to save anyone, you just have to show up. Powerful.
My friend, Sunny Schaefer invited me to tour Operation Food Search, as she cleverly put it: “You’ve traveled across the country to learn about food security and haven’t visited the hunger relief in your own neighborhood.” Off I went to tour Operation Food Search…and left amazed, awed, intrigued and perplexed.
Sunny introduced me to several staff members, all interesting and engaging. Gary, works with the No Kid Hungry program which finds and supports sites across the city to provide nutritious lunches to children once a day during the summer. Gary manages the deluge of paperwork that the USDA requires so that people serving the food can focus on feeding children.
The warehouse was orderly providing easy access to the volunteers from local food pantries, (currently around 220) who show up to gather food for their clients. Sunny explained how the warehouse is organized and seeing the stacks of food waiting to be delivered was exciting. All I could think about were the hands that had touched those products so far in their journey to place it into hands of hungry people.
Operation Backback purchases food to send home with children on free lunches so they can have nutrious meals over the weekend.
After we toured, Sunny invited the OFS Strategic Director, Lucinda Perry to have a conversation with us. Several topics of interest that percolated during our time together was the massive muscle of manufacturers in food choices. Many times large grocers are fingered as those who aid the national obesity, malnutrition and poor eating practices in America’s homes. But it is the major manufacturers (e.g. Nestle) who make the decision as to what is available in the store. Nestle had more than $100 billion in sales and more than $11 billion in profits in 2013. Imagine that amount of money supporting the health of the people eating their products!
One of Lucinda’s current projects is to deepen the sense of advocacy for the nation’s hungry. It’s one thing to bring a can of food to work for a food drive, but how do you broaden the perspective so that people are motivated to act, make decisions, reach out and care for the hungry people in our city?
This question stirred me to step by from my desire to teach others how to grow, prepare and enjoy real food to a bigger stage…one that causes a change in culture, of attitudes, of motivation. Sunny shared an interesting quote. In the 1940’s, FDR said we at War against Poverty. Now, we are at War against those who are in Poverty. Sadly, I could understand exactly her point…impoverished people can be considered to have brought this on themselves. This approach views the situation as hopeless for both sides: poor people don’t know how to help themselves, those with means believe they could help themselves.
Surely awareness as a necessary first step but then what? Relating her past experience at the State of Massachusetts, gaining the attention of the youth is how to make the biggest impact. We agreed that youth usually aren’t hardened by “it’s the way it’s always been” nor are they willing to stand for atrocities that could be solved. Social justice matters to most younger people.
Suggesting that starting with churches already established seemed like a natural avenue for me. After the Food and Faith Seminar at Eden, I see churches as a people group interested in compassion and care for others.
Weeks later, I’m still noodling this important and immense topic…how do we create a greater sense of advocacy for people who are hungry?
Lucinda had articulated the intertwining of access and education to real food, neither can stand alone. One thing we can all do (here in St Louis anyway) during the month of July is to participate in Tomato Explosion. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?
It's July...time to find a good restaurant and try their tomatoes!
I wanted to make up the shifts I missed when I was traveling in late April so I signed up for a Friday morning shift. I was walking to our meeting spot and noticed a familiar face, Jane Keating!
Jane and I met at Crossroads Presbyterian church many years ago and shares many loves. Love of Jesus, of books, of gardening, of theater and so it was a treat to see her at EarthDance. Jane volunteers on “Tidy Friday” and helps out in many ways. She also referred me to some other people to connect with to realize other opportunities in the gardening and farming world of St Louis.
I worked some different shifts to make up for time spent away in late April. It's great to meet other crews and see the different ways the farmies fellowship! Sarah and Steven enjoyed harvesting this fantastic garlic scapes.
The heat is on…finally. All of the shift so far have had wonderful weather, breezy and cool. This last shift, not so much. But I guess it is summer in St. Louis, right? As I headed to our meeting area at the beginning of the shift, I noticed these gorgeous mushrooms near the rain garden. Beauties aren’t they?
Monica explained what was going on with this kale. The insect pressure had intensified so much that she had sprayed this kale with BT. She carefully explained that this is the last line of defense against bugs in an organic farm. Even though BT is organic, spraying is always a last resort on organic farms. Crop rotation, trap crops and row covers are the preferred methods of lessening pest pressure. You can’t really see the damage to this kale, but it was significant.
Near the kale beds, were the nasturtiums. Even though I knew they were edible, I had never tasted their leaves. Spicy and nice!
While a lot of other amazing things happened at EarthDance, I'm moving into July...the eggplants...the tomatoes...the cukes!