FoodCorps National Orientation in Portland

Field trip! FoodCorps Service Members touring a Portland public school garden.

Field trip! FoodCorps Service Members touring a Portland public school garden.

Last Sunday, I arrived at Lewis and Clark College along with 124 other bright-eyed, jet lagged, (mostly) 20-something FoodCorps service members. It felt a bit like going through freshman orientation at college all over again, especially since we were staying in the dorms. However, unlike college orientation where most people are still figuring out their values and interests, everyone at the orientation was clearly passionate about creating a just, sustainable food system centered around healthy food.  Many service members have already been involved in farming and farm education–through WWOOFing, experiential education programs, or by growing up on their own family farms. Others have taught kids–both in and out of the garden–or served in PeaceCorps or AmeriCorps.

I got back to DC last night with my brain (and suitcase) saturated with tons of information, tools, and inspiration from last week. There are so many things I’d love to share, but here are a just a few of the highlights from orientation this past week:

1. Connecting with the rest of the FoodCorps Mississippi team!

I got to meet and hang out with the 9 other Mississippi service members and our state fellow. What a fun and capable group of people! Half of our team members are from Mississippi, so they are deeply familiar with the growing seasons, the school systems, the culture, and many of the challenges that the state faces. The rest of us come from Oregon, Alabama, New York, Colorado (moi!), North Carolina, and New Hampshire. We’ll be spread out across Mississippi from Jackson to the Delta to the coast, so it was nice to have this chance to connect in one place. We’ll meet up again in a few weeks for our statewide orientation. By the way, if you haven’t “liked” the FoodCorps MS Facebook page, you definitely should! Our state fellow, Liz, will be updating it with our stories and photos throughout the year.

The Mississippi FoodCorps team. Ain’t we adorable?

2. Gardening with Kids 101 and Cooking with Kids 101 

We had some awesome trainers from Life Lab, an experiential classroom farm/garden in California, to teach us the basics of gardening with kids (think classroom management plus the added challenge of garden tools and mud). The service members got to be the kids for the day; we helped build a “pizza garden,” a raised circular garden divided into pizza-like slices and planted with herbs and vegetables that can be used as pizza toppings.

My favorite training session had to be Cooking with Kids 101 with Lola Bloom, a co-founder of City Blossoms in DC. She talked about her experience gardening and cooking with kids and communities in DC. Yes, it is possible for kids to chop vegetables with sharp knives! As a hands-on activity, we broke up into teams to make variations on Lola’s famous kale salad. I got the chance talk with Lola at dinner one night about building gardens for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) since some of the kids I’ll be serving at Magnolia Speech School have ASD. She gave me some great ideas of creating “safe spaces” in the garden where children can feel secluded and cozy while still being part of the class.

Adding pizzaz to kale salad during Cooking with Kids 101.

Adding pizzaz to kale salad during Cooking with Kids 101.

3. Eating.

Oh FoodCorps, you spoiled us. All week we had locally sourced, sustainably raised food catered by Bon Appétit Management Company. Curry with tofu, sustainably caught fish with farro risotto, marionberry pancakes with lavender whipped cream, etc. etc. for three meals a day. And each day, they brought in a guest, including a local farmer that grew some of the food, one of their chefs, and a representative from Bob’s Red Mill, to talk to us about what we were eating and the importance of sourcing local products. It was foodie heaven-on-earth for all of us food geeks gathered there.

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After hearing so much about what is WRONG with our system, our country, and despairing at the overwhelming pervasiveness of fast food, the obesity epidemic, and food deserts, it was uplifting to hear about what we can and will be doing to work, albeit slowly, towards a solution. After an intense week of learning, I’ll be spending my last six days in DC packing and saying goodbye to friends (*tear*). My next post will likely be from Jackson, MS!
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