Thursday, February 18, 2010

interview with a farmer

My senior English class with Mrs. Potts!

I am a 1999 La Reina High School graduate. My dear Alma Matter continues to be a supportive and encouraging place. My former English teacher, Mrs. Potts, brought her granddaughter out to the farm and gave my work on the farm a really nice mention in the alumnae newsletter. It appears another English teacher (Mrs. Stanley has been extremely fond of me since I acted out a Maya Angelou poem sophomore year of high school-um, suffice to say I got really into it) is giving a helping hand to the farm by encouraging her students to profile me! (and the farm) for the school newspaper The La Reina Herald. As I was responding to the student's email interview (she was really hoping to make it out the farm but car borrowing situations arose-lots of sympathy there sister!), I realized how nice it was to sit down and write out some things I have been reflecting about for sometime now. Of course, this triggered my inner blog alert, "WRITTEN REFLECTION=GOOD BLOG MATERIAL!" So, I avail the interview to you, my public.

Me as a "sevie" (seventh grader) on the La Reina lawn

1. How did you get involved in the agriculture buisness? Why?

My interest in agriculture has been brewing for a few years. I think my earliest interest can be traced back to the time I spent in Cuenca, Ecuador (2005-2007). In Cuenca, and throughout Ecuador, most folks-especially the lower and middle socio-economic classes-buy their produce, meat, and cheese from large feria libres, basically huge farmers markets. Local farmers bring their goods to sell at these markets. I loved getting to know the farmers, developing relationships with them, getting to know their produce, and trying new and exciting things. At that time I was living with roommates from around the world and we were all able to connect over food-shopping together, cooking together, and learning from the farmers and vendors how to use new things from the feria libre. I started thinking of farming and food as means of developing community. When I returned to the U.S. I missed the feria libres and community shopping and cooking experiences. Here most of us shop at the grocery store and have no sense of the farmers and laborers who cultivate our food. Our food system in the U.S. is not set up to build healthy communities. It is set up to support large industrial farming and distribution chains that put many links between the farmer and the consumer. Each link decreases the quality and nutrition of our food because produce is harvested while it is immature, ripened with chemicals while in route to warehouses where it can sit for days before being transported to the grocery store where we buy it. Large scale industrial farming was created to feed our growing U.S. and world populations. Maybe large industrial farming would make sense to me if it truly did this. However, currently our government pays farmers with subsidies to grow excess amounts of crops like corn which is then turned into corn products like high fructose corn syrup and added to many cheap food products which make us sick with obesity related illness like diabetes and heart disease. So having gone from a community based food system in Ecuador to our large and anonymous food system in the States, I really started thinking not only did our food system not make sense- it is injust. People going hungry while we overproduce crops which go to waste is injust. The fact that cheap, processed foods, which can make us sick, is more available in some of our communities than fresh produce is injust. While I was attending Cal State Channel Islands last year getting my bilingual teaching credential, I started attending a campus ministry called The Abundant Table. The Abundant Table is an Episcopal Christian campus ministry inspired by Jesus' vision of inclusive love and courageous commitment to peace. Food justice was a piece of our group reflections. Our priest Julie's husband is a 4th generation farmer in Oxnard and had been wanting to start a small organic farm on his ranch. Julie envisioned an internship project of young adults who would work the land and connect faith and spirituality to sustainable living on the farm, farming, starting a Community Supported Agriculture program on the farm, and working with other community organizations on food issues like affordable housing, immigration, and education. I decided to join the project. This project has been a nexus of all the areas I have been so interested in the past few years; our food system; farming; living in community; growing my faith and commitment to service; and education (I am the farm educator). This project fosters a restorative connection between the community, their food, and the folks who produce their food.

2. I heard that you attended usc, did you like it there? Did you feel La Reina had prepared you well?

I did go to USC and I did feel extremely prepared both academically and emotionally. La Reina prepares you for so much more than the next four years after high school. La Reina fosters academic engagement which helped me succeed academically at USC and beyond. La Reina also fosters positive self-image and strong women. I was surrounded by incredible women at La Reina-fellow students, teachers, and my principals while I was there Sr. Lisa and Sr. Antoinette Marie. This network of support and encouragement helped me grow into a confident, capable woman. I also learned the Serenity Prayer at La Reina and part of it has stayed with me and motivated me ever since. "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference." These words absolutely guide my work on the farm. I cannot accept hunger and sickness in the face of such abundance and working to directly provide all members of my community with fresh, organic produce and educate folks about problems in our food system is my effort to change what I cannot accept.

3. How did you go from a major in journalism to agriculture?
Part of my strength and confidence comes in being ok with taking the less chosen path. After college while all my friends were applying for jobs, I knew I needed some time to reflect on my next big life choices. I moved to Lake Tahoe and focused on myself-spending time outdoors, developing a healthy lifestyle focusing (or trying to focus!) on exercise, meditation, yoga, eating locally. I worked in a restaurant until I knew I was ready for a change, always checking in with myself about where I was at where I wanted to be, and always listening to my heart. I was a Latin American studies minor in college and thought I would benefit from spending time in South America. I took a job as a teacher in a bilingual preschool and elementary school in Cuenca, Ecuador. I taught in a bilingual program that educated students in their native language while also teaching math, science, and language arts in English. I loved teaching! I have always connected with kids and found teaching utilized many of my skills and interests, while challenging me-exactly what a profession should do! After teaching there for two years I came back to CSUCI to get a bilingual teaching credential. This is where I connected to the Join the Farm project! It is perfect for me because I am the farm educator. I provide educational experiences for students on the farm. We have preschoolers to university students out learning on the farm! From planting seeds, to harvesting carrots, to acting out the plant life cycle, to learning about direct marketing models.

5. Do you have any advice for the La Reina population about farming, eating well, or just life in general?

Connect to your food! It seems we are living more connected than ever with facebook, cell phones, texting, and emails. But I wonder if these "tools" actually distract us from true connection. Person to person meaningful connection, community connection. The type of connections I found through food while living in Ecuador. So, get together with your friends or family (or both!) and stroll through a farmers market-come see my farm Join the Farm! at the Thousand Oaks Farmer's Market Thursdays from 1:30-6:30 at the Thousand Oaks Mall-talk with the farmers and pick up a few things you love to eat and few new things. Go home and make a meal together-laugh and have fun. My farm also has a CSA (community supported agriculture) program. Your family can "join the farm" by purchasing a share in our farm. You can purchase a share through our website and each week we will delivery a box of produce for your family at one of our 7pick up points nearest you! CSA members not only get their weekly boxes of produce, by they participate in different events on the farm. Or, you can just come and check out our farm, I'd love to show you around! advice. Learn how to listen to what's truly in yourself and follow what's in you. Be reflective. Surround yourself with good people. Listen to old people-they know what they're talking about.

7. Any additional comments or personal experiments you would want to share?
Lots of personal experiments, don't know if they're appropriate for the La Reina herald! ha!

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