I spent the last few days in February with 70 plus FoodCorps service members from throughout the central and southern regions of the United States. Like a hoard of locusts, we descended upon Athens, Georgia with copious amounts of kitschy food swag (think root vegetable print socks, honey bee earrings, and bags adorned with punny sayings like “Lettuce Turnip the Beet”). It felt so good to be with my vegetable loving people. Half way through my service term, this gathering gave me time to reflect on my service thus far and refocus my priorities and the lens from which I work looking forward to the spring and summer. There were a multitude of resources that I gathered over the training, and I could not stop thinking about how I might integrate these into my work with the entire Food and Fitness team and the Oelwein schools.
LeDonna Redmond, food activist and founder of Campaign for Food Justice Now, was one of the workshop leaders at Midyear. Her session focused on the power of storytelling and how the only story you can truly tell is your own. My story is that after working for food systems change at several reputable organizations, I became disheartened with the lack of attention to the inequity within the food system. While these organizations do great work, I felt the absence of “real talk”. Why are female farmers more often marginalized in their work? Why are low-income communities disproportionately affected by a lack of access to fresh, local food? Why are communities of color at increased risk for diet-related diseases? I think about these things all the time. These thoughts are the source of my passion for working toward food systems change; furthermore, I believe that equity is the keystone to true change.
If I were to trace my equity lens back to its roots, I would find a seed planted during a middle school trip to Haiti when I was upset by the poverty I saw. At that time, I started to understand the complex, interlocking nature of oppressions as I witnessed the pervasiveness of poverty; its affect on the Pignon community’s access to food and clean water, and how this in turn affected the people’s health. Suddenly, it was as if I had regressed back to my two and half year old self as my brain could not stop asking, “Why?”. At thirteen, my gut reactive solution was to provide the Haitian people with food and water. Today, I understand that free is not sustainable. I understand that Haiti’s problems, like many communities, are tangled up in a very unjust history. Most notably, I now understand that every community has the intellect to heal itself.
Living and working in Oelwein is the first time I have been an active member in a predominately low-income community. This year I have seen a student come to school without shoes because their family was evicted in the middle of the night. A majority of the students in the district receive a free or reduced breakfast and lunch everyday; some students’ only meals are the breakfast and lunch they eat at school. Hunger is a symptom of poverty and poverty is everywhere, not just developing countries like Haiti. Poverty is right here in Northeast Iowa. Poverty exists in my community. Additionally, the intellect to heal my community exists in my community.
At Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness (my service site), the Americorps and FoodCorps service members are called “Resource Contacts”. I love this title. I am not the solution to Oelwein’s needs; I am a resource empowering the community to heal itself. In the past six months, I have been impressed time and time again by the comprehensive vision for change that Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness pursues relentlessly. I am overwhelmingly proud to serve with FoodCorps whose vision is as follows: We are creating a future in which all our nation’s children–regardless of class, race, or geography—know what healthy food is, care where it comes from, and eat it every day. Through our work, future generations will grow up to lead healthier and more productive lives. Now, that is “real talk”!