Welcome to my post-holiday slump of a blog post. I have this sort of beehive-sounding buzz building in my brain since attempting to get back into the school groove this week. Maybe I ate too much turkey. Maybe I did not eat enough pie (which is entirely not possible considering the amount of pie I ate). Whatever it is, it does not feel nice. Last New Years, I made a resolution to “TURN IT AROUND”! For me, “turning it around” is a commitment to finding, and even sometimes forcing into existence, the positivity in all situations. So, here I sit in my office meditating on the words “turn it around”. This holiday season I will not be overtaken by the bee-buzz in my brain. With every word I type, may the buzz be ever gone from my being.
Instead of giving into December’s grey skies and holiday blues, I am choosing to refocus my thoughts and energy on a few words that a friend brought to my attention recently: “i can’t i without we” (intentionally lowercase ‘i’). These words make me want to throw out my hands and wave sparkle fingers. These words quiet that buzz in my brain. These words bring a warm smile to my frost-chilled bones and rewrap my spirit around the sentiment of gratitude. Without so many others, the work I do would be nothing more than a pesky bee-buzz. As such, I would like to take this time to thank the ever-growing list of extraordinary human beings that make my work…work. These people inhabit the entire spectrum. On a national level, there are 182 FoodCrops service people like myself, 16 FoodCorps fellows, and a huge national staff that hustle each and every day in the name of healthier kids. This hustle inspires me to hustle harder. These people doing this work alongside me (in spirit) remind me that I am not carrying the weight of change alone. My momma always told me that ‘many hands makes the load lighter’ and never have those words rang more true than in this work. This work is so heavy. When I see children that do not eat at home, farmers who cannot turn a profit, and community pushback to embrace tough change, I remember that I am not going to shift the systems alone. i can’t i without we! Thank you, FoodCorps, for giving me the platform to do this necessary work.
At a state level, the National Center for Appropriated Technology (NCAT) Midwest deserves the next shout-out. The work I do would not happen without NCAT. As the regions’ lead agent for the National Farm to School Network, NCAT hosts FoodCorps in the state of Iowa. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for hosting me and the eight other FoodCorps service members along with Marlie, our fearless FoodCorps fellow. More locally, I am supported by the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative. Here, we need to take a moment of pause. Last night, I felt privileged to sit in on Food and Fitness’s Regional Leadership Meeting. The room was full of stakeholders from every corner of the healthy living, sustainable food systems conversation: farmers, teachers, superintendents, professors, grant writers, grocery store managers, nutritionists and more. We were all welcomed into the conversation about the past, present, and future work of Food and Fitness. I am so thankful to be working for an organization that invites everyone equitably into the conversation about systems change. I am so thankful to work for an organization with a patient vision because this work is slow (but fiercely intentional). Thank you, Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative, for working to make northeast Iowa a region where all people have access to a healthy, happy life filled with local produce.
This blog post is getting a little lengthy. We might need to take an intermission (is that allowed?) because I still have quite a few rock star humans to thank. I work in five schools, Knd-12th, in the Oelwein Community School District. If you blink while driving down Iowa Highway 150, you might miss Oelwein, population 6,000. Take my advice. Don’t blink. At school, I work most closely with the elementary school counselor, Barb Schmitz. I could devote an entire blog post to Barb Schmitz. I could start crying thinking about her support for me, my programs, and the students and staff of the schools; however, I cried multiple times during my last post so I will spare you my happy, thankful tears. THANK YOU, BARB SCHMITZ! Frank Stammameyer, the Food Service Director, says “yes” with a smile to all the crazy ideas I ask him to help me with. “Can we serve local foods during National Farm to School Month?” was met with a “Sure thing!” Frank loves the students and works tirelessly to continually improve the school lunch program. The teachers, students, secretaries, nurses, superintendent, para-educators, food service workers… there are so many names to name. Each name deserves a thank you because each name contributes to the “we” that makes my job possible. i can’t i without we.
Because the interconnected complexity of this work is hard to grasp from the list of organizations and names I have thrown at you, I will drive home this idea with a brief example. I worked to get one local item per week on the school lunch menu for October’s National Farm to School Month. This would have never been possible without Frank saying, “Sure thing!”. Frank would have never been able to say “Sure thing!” if Superintendent Steve Westerberg did not support the school district’s commitment to health. The local food would have never been served if the food service staff had been unwilling to take the extra time to prepare it. There would have never been any local food to serve if the farmers did not grow it and furthermore, without the Iowa Food Hub’s commitment to distributing partially processed, local food (cubed squash, shredded cabbage, husked corn), the Oelwein Food Service team may have been unable to make it work. On top of all of this, I would not be in Oelwein without Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness, NCAT, or FoodCorps. Without me, local apples, corn, cabbage, and squash would not have made it onto 1,000 lunchroom trays, but I was the smallest factor in this very long equation. This work I do is more than necessary. It is intrinsic. It is fundamental. This work has to happen!
For me to do this work, an army of people have to support it. I stand on the shoulders of giants each and every day as I pass out kale chips, teach nutrition lessons, or bring students out to the school garden. The students are incredibly polite and sweet and often shower me with praise such as, “These are the best carrots I have ever had!”, “Cooking, like with real food from farms, is so cool!”, and “Thanks for cooking class, Miss Molly. This broccoli and cheese soup is yummy.” I get to hear these thankful words every day, and it is not fair when so many people enable me to do this job. I wish all of you could experience the “Thank you!” of a first grade voice with spinach between her teeth, because that “Thank you”, although directed at me, is not merely for me. That “Thank you” is for my boss, Emily Neal and her director, Ann Mansfield and all of my co-workers and Iowa State Extension and Luther College and the Iowa Food Hub and the WK Kellogg Foundation and NCAT and FoodCorps and every person contributing to a more sustainable food system. i can’t i without we. Let this “Thank you” echo to the core of your holiday infinity. I believe I have officially turned it all the way around. Happy Holidays! Thank you all!