Making an Impact

Emilio Botts, FoodCorps Service member at The Volunteer Center of Grant County & The Guadalupe Montessori School Silver City

When I first joined FoodCorps, I thought like many of us, how I desired to make a difference and help change the world. I saw pictures on the national website of service members putting together workshops, being featured in newspaper articles, or even being interviewed on TV. My ego got the best of me and I couldn’t wait to be recognized for my efforts as a FoodCorps service member. Obviously my motivation for being involved with FoodCorps is my passion for helping youth, sustainable gardening, and teaching kids that food can be grown and is indeed medicine.

I first was notified that I’d be placed in a small town called Silver City, about 4 hours south of Albuquerque. I had never stepped foot in New Mexico, nor had I heard of Silver City. I was warned of rural living and the lack of resources in Silver City, but this I ignored as I was excited to join FoodCorps (and daydreams of Oprah calling me to be interviewed because of the amazing work I am doing entered my mind).

When I arrived in Silver City, I was welcomed to a quaint town, absent a movie theater and shopping malls, but full of charm as well as character; and although missing a Starbucks, containing several amazing coffee shops. I was told that I was to be assigned to Guadalupe Montessori School and if I desired, Jose Barrios Elementary. As I accepted the challenge and still excited to be somewhere new, the realities of my service started to evolve. Rural small towns aren’t like the big urban areas I was used to. The resources and funding aren’t as available, and food justice has a different meaning. I was ready to put my fist in the air and impact Silver City. However, the only direction my fist was moved was to the ground, as I pulled weeds to prep the beds for winter. The question I had to ask myself is what was my agenda for the people and community of Silver City, and what did the town and community need from me? I realized that what I desired to accomplish, and what was actually needed and possible, were not exactly aligned. To me, making change had to do with hosting workshops, getting written up in the paper, and making a little noise every now and then.

Making noise may satisfy the ego, but is it necessary to make an impact? I reflect on my own childhood and how just going to a health food store with my parents, or helping my mother juice carrots contributed to my interest in real food. We are often told the example of a butterfly flapping its wings and influencing a wind pattern half way across the world. I believe that we, as service members are butterflies flapping wings, making an impact that may not be felt directly or for years to come. Although some of us have been interviewed by radio or tv programs, and may have received national recognition, others may be experiencing a quiet service term in a rural town; and it can be difficult to feel like one is making a difference.

When you notice a service member “doing big things” and all you’ve done is pick weeds, and shovel manure, the ego does start to whisper, “Am I doing enough?”  Am I really making a difference?My response is absolutely! The reality is, that just like the butterfly cannot see the chain of events that’s happening as it flaps its wings, nor can we see the immediate impact of our efforts.

As I was working in the garden, a child asked me if this was my profession. He had a look of enlightenment, as I could tell that for the first time he had the idea that he could grow up to do similar work. Maybe just being out in the garden and showing children that there are other options is radical enough. Not all of us will receive recognition for the work that we are doing, to provide the external validation that we are “doing something.” Although we may be alone in a garden for hours prepping beds, swatting away flies, people do notice and our work does matter. We may not be able to see the fruits of our efforts for years to come, but as gardeners we know how to wait, and we should rejoice in knowing that what we do today will affect the wind patterns of the food justice movement tomorrow; that our work is making a difference and an impact.

Rainbow Veggie Land Garden Summer Camp!

By Elena Mitchel, FoodCorps Service Member in Silver City, NM

The Sixth Street School Garden is growing and blossoming in this warm, wet June. Since the school does not have summer school this summer, I decided to put on a garden summer camp to get kids out into the garden. Summer camp started this past Monday and it has been a busy week! We’ve been planting the last of our summer crops. We planted watermelons and okra in the bed of plants that all originally come from Africa. We planted cucumbers in the bed of plants that originally come from Asia (cucumbers are originally from India). We pulled out the last of our winter wheat stalks and planted sorghum and melons! A gardening neighbor gave us some new herbs for us to plant in the herb spiral: pineapple sage, stevia and lemon thyme. It poured for two nights this week, conveniently watering in all our new seeds and transplants and making the garden smell wonderful!

Although it rained at night, it was hot during the day and we beat the heat by making mint, watermelon water. The kids harvested our mint from the herb spiral and we sweetened it with a few leaves of our new stevia plant! The children really loved the stevia and we discussed how if you wanted to make something sweet you could use stevia instead of sugar.

Besides planting, we have been exploring garden creatures. Turning the compost revealed sow bugs, roly polies, crickets, cockroaches, ants, grubs, and stinkbugs. We had a pair of doves move in to our willow tree and start to make a nest. In honor of the birds of the garden we created bird feeders out of recycled cereal boxes and caps. They help to make the garden more cheerful!

We are having a lot of fun in garden camp and I hope that beyond some fun times the children are learning how to care for living beings, gaining enthusiasm for fresh fruits and vegetables, gaining an understanding of basic functions of nature, and gaining an appreciation of the hard work and patience required to grow a garden.

Gardening with Toddlers!

By Elena Mitchel, FoodCorps Service Member in Silver City, NM

My name is Elena and I am a FoodCorps Service Member serving at two schools in Silver City, NM. At the Guadalupe Montessori School I teach gardening to children aged 1.5 -11 years old.

The toddler class is really fun to work with in the garden because they are at an age when they are extremely excited and curious about everything. The toddlers come out in the morning and we sing a garden song together—which they are captivated by. Then they are asked to choose between a variety of activities, or works, that I have prepared for them. These include watering the plants, digging, tearing up leaves for the compost pile, holding the worms in the worm bin, observing bugs, and moving beans into a jar.

Although these are all very simple activities, they can be difficult for this age and they help them to develop basics skills—and most importantly, the children LOVE doing them.

Watering helps the children to develop balance, and control of a heavy object, as well as teaching them to care for plants. Digging develops their muscles and gives them a direct connection to the earth. Tearing up leaves and moving the beans helps the children to develop hand-eye coordination, their hand muscles, precision, and the pinching grasp which is necessary for learning to hold a pen or pencil, which they will need to master when they begin to write. The worm work helps these children to develop an understanding of recycling, as they see scraps turn into dirt, and to learn to be very gentle when holding creatures.

The worm bin is always surrounded by giggling toddlers who love the treasure hunt to find the worms and the tickling sensation when they hold them. The bug observation is also a favorite; I catch as many bugs as I can before class (often with the help of older students) and put them in a bug container for the toddlers to observe. Last week we had grubs, cockroaches, roly polies, and a couple of different types of beetles. The children squeal with delight as they watch these creatures crawl about.

The teachers tell me that the garden exhausts the children and after garden day the toddlers eat ravenously and fall into deep sleep immediately during nap, even though garden time is only 30 minutes!

It is a lot for someone who is under 3 feet tall.