5 Years as a FoodCorps Alum: in 5 Photos

My name is Rachel Spencer, and I’m honored receive the inaugural FoodCorps Alumni Service Leadership Award. I currently work for the USDA in our Office of Community Food Systems farm to school team, where I help child nutrition program operators incorporate local foods in the National School Lunch Program and other federal nutrition programs. As a member of FoodCorps’ very first cohort of AmeriCorps members, it’s been a privilege to watch this organization grow over the past six years. It’s particularly special because I know that my fellow FoodCorps alums have played a big role in that growth and continue to today. We have a robust community of alumni out there, and while I’m elated to receive this award I want to take you on a journey to recognize a few of the things I think make this organization and this network great. Opinions shared here are my own.

I’ve learned so much from all the people who are part of FoodCorps, but I particularly want to thank the inspirational women that make this organization work. From the founders of FoodCorps to the staff that joined later on to my fellow service members and FoodCorps alums, I have found abundant examples of women who are leading through service. I’m a firm believer that we need more women in leadership positions in this world. For that to happen we need opportunities to connect with and mentor each other. Though gardens and lesson plans were my primary language while serving in schools, being part of FoodCorps for me was always a lesson in leadership. I cannot overstate the value of having the opportunity to learn from the dynamic, passionate women that are part of this organization. 

They have helped me navigate some of life’s toughest decisions about work, life, and the pursuit of happiness. 

It speaks to the strength of our network that the power of that mutual support did not fade upon leaving FoodCorps. We counsel each other on life and career goals. We’re there for the good and the bad. We review each other’s resumes and (like what happened right after we took this photo) dance at each other’s weddings. [Photo by Anya McFadden Photography]

I couldn’t make it through this story without celebrating the state that cemented my route on the road of food systems work – Arkansas. Being from the South has always been an important part of my identity. When I applied for FoodCorps I ranked the Natural State first. It was unfamiliar enough to be an adventure but close enough to my home state of Georgia to feel like I wasn’t abandoning my region. This state with its fascinating history, abundant natural beauty, and warm, friendly people helped me learn about my own strengths and struggles in a way I would not have elsewhere. Arkansas taught me about the reality of the challenges faced by the people living in rural America; it taught me that textbook policy means little if it does not work in the field. Such is the case in most states in the South – there is much work to do, but you’ll find good people fighting the good fight. Even though I now live in Dallas for my role with the USDA, I still feel that Arkansas is home. On spring weekends when it rains and there is plenty of water in the rivers you’ll find me out kayaking, camping, and experimenting to find the best fireside cooking recipes.

A few months after I began my service with FoodCorps I wrote a blog post thanking all the people that made a school garden work. I talked about my principal who tried pesto for the first time, the teachers who consistently went the extra mile, and the kids who stepped up to join me on this crazy garden adventure (especially the ones eager to try things they had not tried before). It has been an immense privilege to be part of an alumni group filled with individuals reinvesting their time, energy, and creativity into making the world a better place. Wrapping up, I’m thankful for the people driving the food and farm to school movements forward. I’m thankful to the current service members building school gardens and teaching kids across the nation. I’m thankful for every child nutrition director working hard to feed kids healthy food; it is not an easy one, but it is one on the front lines of changing school food. I’m thankful to the farmers and farm workers for who labor to grow our food. I’m thankful to the policy people, from our advocates to the folks running for local, state, or federal office – knowing food is important in each of those arenas. I’m thankful to FoodCorps for helping alumni like me dream big about the way we transform the way we eat in America. It is an honor to receive this award for leadership and service; we can continue to make progress through service, together. Let’s get to work.

Follow me on Instagram at @platesandpolicy