By Dana Stevens, FoodCorps Fellow in Connecticut
My job is bittersweet. Let me explain. My job is bitter because I wish it didn’t have to exist. It exists because 1 in 3 of today’s children can expect to develop diabetes (or some other diet-related disease) in the course of their lives. In some populations this number is almost 1 in 2. As a group, these children will collectively live fewer years than you or I. My job exists because diet-related diseases are an epidemic in America, and the current food system is largely responsible.
I support a team of 5 amazing FoodCorps members serving in communities across the state of Connecticut to improve the food systems children rely on every day. In these communities children get, on average, 60% or more of their daily calories outside the home. Across the country, only 2% of our children eat the recommended amounts of daily fruits and vegetables, few of them local. Most of the children we work with have never been to a farm.
My job is bitter because kids in Connecticut can easily grow up eating bags of chips and sugary drinks for lunch. They can grow up not knowing where a carrot comes from, and what a plant needs in order to grow. They can go their whole lives not having permission to go outside and put their hands in the dirt. And they can grow up never having created anything out of their relationship with the natural world. Why does this matter? The answer is energy.
The entire FoodCorps family gathered in Detroit last week for our annual mid-year gathering to discuss our farm to school, school garden, and nutrition education work. Malik Yakini, visionary food justice leader, gave one of the most inspiring keynote addresses I have ever attended. He started his talk by explaining to us that this is spiritual work for him. He reminded us that everything comes down to energy – the energy of atoms vibrating. Stop and think about this. Imagine all of the layers of life those vibrating atoms become: plants, animals, weather, our bodies, the electrical impulses in our brains that are our ideas and feelings, ecosystems, solar systems and on and on.
Energy is neither “good” nor “bad” but we have a special ability to use the energy in and around us in specific, focused ways. We can partner to build unique combinations of energy (projects, relationships) that may give birth to other kinds of energy (ideas, physical creations, communities, babies etc.). All this vibration is connected in an intricate web around us, and within the ecosystem of a human body. If our bodies do not have the right nutrients, our cells cannot create the energy we need. If we are malnourished, mal-energized, how can we do our best work or set the stage for a future of health and vitality? How can we expect the best from children unlucky enough to find themselves part of a system that does not afford their bodies what they need?
Around the country, thousands of school children are learning to use the sun’s energy to grow plants, feed soil microbes by composting their lunches, keep fertile soil in place with cover crops, and safeguard future energy by saving seeds for the next year. We use the energy in our bodies to facilitate the work of growing things, to create wholesome meals and share them with one another. The energy of exercise and nourishment from food and fresh air fuels our minds. New ideas are stimulated, better connections made. Communities come together in safe spaces to participate in these activities and preserve them as stewards for the future. The energy we use and create in these efforts is recycled in our communities in many forms.
Changing the food system around children not only allows their bodies to achieve maximum vitality on a biochemical level, but also embeds them in the experience of, and participation in, regenerative cycles as a way of life. It is the ultimate form of empowerment to understand that you can use your energy to sustain yourself and your community in health. This is the important work our service members are doing.
My job may be bitter because our current food system is not based on an understanding of the way energy moves through the world, and how it can be most appropriately used. But my job is sweet too. It is sweet because I get to witness this expanding vibration and excitement around food, community, and culture. It is sweet because when we come down to the level of the atom, we are all the same. We are all connected by the same force, and we are realizing, one worm-composting lesson at a time, that we are collectively responsible for, part of, and very much affected by the energy cycles that we create and participate in.
FoodCorps is a nationwide team of passionate leaders who work to connect kids to real food. As a “Seed Funder,” Annie’s is enabling FoodCorps Fellows to support, guide, and mentor service members who then go out to teach kids about what healthy food is and where it comes from, build and tend school gardens, and bring high-quality local food into public school cafeterias.