The End to a Great Year
The past year has come and gone so quickly for me. In my service as an AmeriCorps VISTA, a national service program designed to fight poverty, I have been working with Main Street Project in Northfield, Minnesota. My goal was to continue telling their story via social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogging, etc.), helping build capacity in the organization which continually works to improve the livelihoods of Latino immigrants. Main Street Project accomplishes this by increasing access to resources, sharing knowledge, and building power to create a socially, economically, and ecologically resilient food system. Throughout my year-long term, I have learned so many things on this journey and am excited to take my experience and knowledge with me in the future.
During my service, I have learned about the blueprint of a sustainable agricultural system that Main Street Project has researched, tested and developing. From my first day, I was exposed to the entire process by working with with Bob Kell, Training Director, and Joe Charlton, Farm Manager; jumping in feet first learning how to pack barley and feed chickens.
At the research and development farm, the first thing I noticed was the 10-15 foot sunflowers staring right at me. And let me tell you, I love sunflowers. I knew right away this was meant to be and going to be a great learning experience. Later that week, when speaking to Reginaldo Haslett-Marroqin, Chief Operating Officer, I learned that the sunflowers (as well as the hazelnut trees on the farm) were a way of protection for the chickens from predators in the air. They offer protection from hawks or other birds and shade for the chickens. Regi described the system to me: Chickens are fertilizing the land as they eat the grass, barley, and other things they can find on the land. The natural fertilizer from the birds provides nutrients to the plants (sunflowers, hazelnuts, corn, etc.) and then the plants can be harvested for another profit (sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, corn, etc.). This interconnected system described to me made perfect sense, and I was beginning to wonder why others have not adopted this model.
My first days were very exciting and full of information, but my learning and adventures did not stop there. Throughout the rest of the summer/fall (2014), I helped worked on the farm: laying bedding for the chicks, fencing chicken wire around hazelnuts, weeding hazelnuts, installing drain tile, screwing in a hinge and fixing a coop door, spreading barley and using a pitchfork to spread hay on the paddock, cleaning the feeders/waters, feeding the chicks, and much more. It was a great experience to be outside and learning the true value of hard work, growing food, and managing a chicken production unit.
Niel Ritchie, Chief Executive Officer, encouraged me to learn more about food systems, networking, and other related organizations. Throughout the year, I attended many conferences and meetings including: Food Access Summit, Women’s Congress, CREATE: The Community Meal, Slow Money MN, Immigrant and Minority Farmers Conference, Bridges Out of Poverty, etc. I had the opportunity to learn what Minnesota and what other organizations are doing in regards to supporting a healthy and local food system. I am overjoyed with the information I have learned at these conferences and meetings; my next steps will be utilizing the information, attending more conferences in the future, and figuring out my contribution to a healthful food system.
There have been many more things accomplished in this one year as an AmeriCorps VISTA. I have had a wonderful time working with Main Street Project’s staff and consultants throughout this year and have truly made a connection with each of them. The most important lesson I learned throughout my service is the hard work that Main Street Project is doing. These individuals have truly inspired me and demonstrated the dedication and will to build a socially, economically, ecologically, and healthier food system. With all the organizations I have learned about, including Main Street Project, I am confident that there will be a change in the food system. I am excited to see how the story of Main Street Project continues into the future. Thank you for all the wonderful memories and experiences!