At Food For All, our goal is to communicate with community members and figure out exactly what they need and desire at local food relief organizations. In doing so, we believe it provides a stronger connection between the volunteers and members of the community. We also hope that it gives them a sense of power to choose so that they also play an important role in what they are eating. Food for All has a unique role in the community compared to others farms because our sole purpose is to donate nutritious foods and help provide meals to the community.
Mikaela Thiboutot (left) and Anna Plewa (right) getting Food For All butternuts ready for a meal at CHD’s Not Bread Alone
As we volunteer at CHD’s Not Bread Alone as part of our work with the Food for All Garden, we’re excited to see farm to table play out in a real, hands-on experience. Not only do we harvest the vegetables, but we get to prepare them at Not Bread Alone, make a delicious meal, and then serve them to our community members. It makes us feel truly connected to the food and the purpose of the garden. It’s rewarding to participate in community work centered around food, because it brings people together in a unique way. We have to work together to make both appealing and nutritious food. There are also various levels of cooking knowledge in the kitchen, so it can be fun to learn alongside community members and our peers. We’ve both also learned so many new recipes!
How does it feel to be a student participating in the community?
Mikaela – I am from Southeastern Massachusetts. I feel that I am a temporary member of the community, since I am student at UMass Amherst and not here for a very long time. In some ways, that creates a layer of separation in community work. Most volunteers at Not Bread Alone are students, maybe getting community service hours for a class or for an organization on campus. Whether they volunteer once or for an entire semester, they are not actually a long term part of the community that will see change or the lack thereof. This might make students less invested in coming back, or make the community members feel like a charity project. However being students, especially in the Nutrition and Sustainable Food and Farming majors, we have a direct interest in learning from the community and creating solutions to improve certain situations in it. We have resources on campus, which enables Food for All to exist. We surround ourselves with energy and creativity from our classes and peers who are also passionate about such topics like food justice. For these reasons, I think being a student actually gives us a beneficial perspective in community work.
Anna – I agree with Mikaela! As for me, although I am not a permanent resident of Amherst, I live closeby near Springfield. It’s interesting to see how the differences between communities can affect food relief organizations. It’s no surprise that Amherst relief efforts can provide fresh, local produce, since it is surrounded by farmland and numerous supermarkets. Many of these supermarkets make generous produce donations to Not Bread Alone. On the other hand, other surrounding areas, particularly in Hampden county, do not have as many local and fresh resources. Therefore, from my experience with food relief organizations in that area, donations are usually canned goods and other non-perishable items. Working in various areas with distinct differences in economic demographics and accessibility to resources has broadened my curiosity of how community building can affect food systems.
As students who study both nutrition and SFF, we constantly see connections between the two fields. It would be difficult to consider one and not the other. Agriculture and the food system play an immensely important role in nutrition and health outcomes. Food justice work can help impact a community for the long term, decreasing the prevalence of disease. Working with the Food for All garden and Not Bread alone, we get to work right at the intersection of these two fields. We hope to not only improve community access to nutritious foods but also improve health outcomes of community members.
In these two majors, we also see differences in the discussion of food sovereignty. In the nutrition major, food systems and food justice are only discussed in some classes, mostly electives. The major requirements are focused on content-heavy science courses, such as biochemistry, microbiology, and organic chemistry. Therefore, knowledge from our SFF classes has truly enriched many discussions in our nutrition classes more than the other way around. We admire our nutrition professors that stir up a discussion on food justice in their classes.