Maya Carl, CAC AmeriCorps Member 2015-2016
Food is life. This is what I started my speech with on Mayor’s Recognition Day when people in the Knoxville community came to recognize Corps service and package almost 600 meals.One would think that a statement so simple could be easily understood…
…well unfortunately it is not. During my AmeriCorps term this past year with CAC AmeriCorps in Knoxville, TN, I not only learned the importance of this fact, but also how much it needs to be taught and explained to all humans. I have also learned the value of community in relation to food.
Growing up in a mildly food aware household I never really knew the value of food in terms of its direct effect on my body, humanity and the world around me. All I really understood was that I ate it pretty often, foods packed with sugar such as ice cream were my favorite, and my family purchased the majority of it in bulk from Costco. It wasn’t until about halfway through my undergraduate career, at Eckerd College, when I started to be heavily involved in my college’s garden. My awareness of the benefit of fresh, local organic food really started to register in my mind, body and soul.
Now here I am three years later, wrapping up my first AmeriCorps service term with CAC Beardsley Community Farm and am incredibly passionate about fresh produce, as well as changing most aspects of the world’s food systems for the better.
When I say food systems I mean every step of the journey from seed to mouth. Because food is life, every human on this planet needs it in some respect. Due to that fact, and the lack of knowledge around producing one’s own food, most of the world heavily relies on large, commercial industry to receive their daily intake of calories. This is a serious and insidious problem. Why, you might ask? The industrial food production system is and has been unsustainable, uncaring and unconscious of its effects on the planet and those who inhabit it. Seems strange for an industry who has made themselves responsible for nourishing and sustaining humanity. I could go on about my feelings about our food system, but instead of spreading confusion and pessimism, I would like to share my hope for the future, which has been a result of my service term.
Part of CAC Beardsley Community Farm’s mission is to educate the community on sustainable agriculture practices and how to grow their own food. I observe and have been a part of spreading this mission almost every single day for the past ten and a half months at the farm. Volunteers who have never been to the farm before receive an educational tour upon arrival. During that tour we show them the farm as well as explain the various sustainable methods we use on the farm in order to maintain all of the delicate balances associated with growing food. Those methods include but are not limited to crop rotation, rainwater catchment and composting. Many people are extremely receptive and wish to learn more. For me, if one idea really sticks and is understood my job is done because knowledge is power. By teaching people about how to grow their own food, especially in a sustainable manner, we are empowering the community by giving them control over a consistent aspect of their life: what they eat everyday.
The farm is located in a “food desert,” where many people do not have control over that facet of their life because they do not have easy access to fresh, nutritious food. This lack of access could be due to a number of reasons including lack of transportation, inconsistent income or lack of grocery stores in low-income, residential areas. Whatever the reason may be, the people living in these areas are forced to buy their food from convenience stores, which the USDA explicitly states “provide a wealth of processed, sugar, and fat laden foods that are known contributors to our nation’s obesity epidemic.” This problem goes so much further than not being able to have vegetables at dinner. I am continuing to learn about the negative health effects, physical and mental, that comes from eating this way consistently as well as how many people are completely unaware of them because there is not education about it. I have also realized that many people are in denial or don’t care about the value of what they are eating because they grew up eating a certain way and that is all they know to be true. By growing and educating people about fresh food, Beardsley wants to give that control back to these communities in the form of food sovereignty.
CAC Beardsley Community Farm attracts so many different walks of life. The farm staff is able to teach all kinds of people how important and wonderful growing your own food sustainably is. This creates community. The “community” aspect of the farm’s name is what has really made the biggest impact on my experience. Doing this work, I have met countless students from the University of Tennessee and Pellissippi Community College along with students from kindergarten all the way to high school graduates. Volunteers also come with their church congregations, individually, as couples, as families, and so many others who walk away from the farm with more knowledge and awareness than they came in with. This knowledge and ability to work together to help people in need unites hearts and minds. I have witnessed people fall in love at the farm as well as make work and friendship connections. Food is also life in this respect. It brings people together to grow it, harvest it and prepare it for consumption.
The greater Knoxville community recognizes the importance of the farm and when Beardsley needs help there is a cradle of support from so many people, organizations and businesses.Food is powerful in so many ways and it is impossible to ignore. I have learned the power of food and how it affects the lives of every single person, which has brought me to an understanding within myself. As a result of this experience, I will be working with people and food for the rest of my life. I will not be able to fix our very broken food system on my own, but with the power of compassion, community, understanding and the experience I have gained from my service term with CAC AmeriCorps, I will undoubtedly make a change.
This blog post is a collection of personal reflections and expressions. All opinions represented are those of the author and do not represent the official opinion or views of the Knoxville – Knox County Community Action Committee, CAC AmeriCorps or any other party referenced.