It’s been 99 days since I started my service as a FoodCorps service member with Good Food for Oxford Schools in Oxford, MS. In that time span, I’ve taught lessons to elementary and middle schoolers, organized volunteers to participate in cafeteria events, and planted and harvested vegetables with my students. And much like the seedlings we nurtured at our garden at Della Davidson Elementary, I’ve grown as a person, alongside my eager students. Each day I learn more about myself, about the vegetables that are growing in the ground, and about the students in my classes. While I still can’t recognize every single sprout that germinates in the garden, I have learned how to manage a classroom, while also leaving creative space to spark students’ interest in food, gardening, and nutrition.
As a native Mississippian and University of Mississippi alum, I am well aware of the slow pace of change in our state, especially in terms of education and health policies. It can be difficult to stay motivated in the face of these seemingly unsurmountable obstacles, while the rest of the country is always just a little more ahead of the curve than we are. It can feel like that whole “growing and learning” thing pauses, statewide. Yet, for some reason, I keep pushing. I gather most of my energy from the kids who I work with every week. Their passion and enthusiasm is enough for me to say, yeah, staying in Mississippi for another year of service is totally worth it.
During the past 99 days, my public speaking skills (which used to be one of my greatest weaknesses) have improved. I’ve discovered that you can use the same lessons for different classes and, lo and behold, you get better at teaching the same lesson the more you do it! And I’ve found out that kids, especially kids ages 8 or 9 and below, can never sing the “6 Plant Parts” song too many times. Now I’ve just got to convince them to actually eat all six plants parts, and then we’ll really be “cooking!” I’ve observed that forgetting to protect some plants from frost (ahem, bush beans) will cause them to —you guessed it!—wilt and die. But even a dying plant can be turned into a lesson in it’s own right. That’s part of the learning and growing process. And just as I have grown and learned throughout the past 99 days, I want to see Mississippi do the same. I yearn for a better version of myself and a better Mississippi. One seedling at a time.