FoodCorps Members Get Their Hands Dirty

At a compost bin that doubles as a podium, urban farming hero Will Allen faced the inaugural class of 50 FoodCorps service members—sitting together in Milwaukee but about to spin out to ten states around the country–giving them advice for the year of service they have ahead of them.

“There’s a lot of skill and knowledge existing in the communities you’re going into. You’ll bring stuff, and you’ll learn stuff. It’s a two-way street,” he said. “That’s how real sustainability works.”

After three days of training, workshops, presentations and open space discussions, these young men and women spent day four touring Growing Power, studying their systems of composting, year-round growing, aquaponics…and on and on. Learning stuff.

More advice from Allen on how to make the most of the tour of the Growing Power operation: “Don’t look at the plants (they’re green), look at the infrastructure. See how it works. How we use space.” Notebooks out, eyes open, they followed his instructions. They also pet goats (I did, too).

Their work this year will be focused on three pillars: knowledge, engagement and access. That is: delivering hands-on nutrition education, building and tending school gardens, and bringing high-quality local food into public school cafeterias. And while they bring skills—like farming experience and nutrition degrees—this work will largely be brand new for them, and they will be learning as they go.

So what did they learn this week?

Graham Downey will be serving in Mississippi. He told me how he’s learned about the importance of pairing realism with positivity.  That this work—giving youth an enduring relationship with healthy food—is challenging, but that it’s still important, and possible, to be excited about it.

Norris Guscott, who will be working in Massachusetts, has learned about the importance of getting the students’ parents involved in this work.

Jackie Billhymer, headed to Arkansas, is beginning this work understanding the need to engage the larger community and to harness the power of networking.

So, Civil Eaters, help us out here: what do they still need to know? What does it take to do this work effectively?