Emily Neal is a FoodCorps site supervisor in Northeast Iowa. This is an adaptation of a “FoodChat” she gave at a midyear gathering of service members and service site supervisors in our central and southern regions.
I’m Emily Neal. I’ll spare you the details of my long job title, and introduce you to our rural region of Northeast Iowa. Our members serve an area the size of Connecticut, with only about 150,000 people spread across six counties, where folks travel to work, to shop, to play, and to go to the doctor. Our area encompasses two of the poorest counties in the state where there is the highest percentage of single parent homes, and where one of our communities was subject to the largest immigration raid in United States history. Our corps members serve “districts” (instead of towns or cities) because each district is under 1,200 students and they travel tirelessly to build connections and collect resources to make their communities thrive. That is what collectively over the last five years members have done, and done extraordinarily well. This is FoodCorps in Northeast Iowa.
Issac Newton said,
“If I have seen further, it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
For the last five years, we have had the honor and great pleasure to host members who have built a succession of successes—some small, some big—all taking a shovel to the dirt, and digging just a little deeper. While many of them are not giants per se (in fact few of them even barely reach the five foot mark) they are the mightiest of women (okay, there were two guys). Each one broke down a new barrier for her successor. Each one left her mark. Each year, each school imagined they could never replace the beloved member before them, yet within a matter of weeks each new member became the new Vegetable Lady, the new Song and Dance Guy, or the new Food Teacher.
In 5 years, they have built 24 school gardens where there once were none. One-third of our school districts now have at least one building recognized by the Healthier US School Challenge. Local food purchases in schools have soared from $6,000 to over $70,000. They have provided over 3,000 hours of nutrition education, but more than that, together, each one has made a positive difference in the lives of children, giving them new foods to love, connecting their hands to the soil, lowering their blood sugar, and raising their self-esteem. They’ve cooked, dug, planted, and boy have they had meetings! Meetings with teachers, with parents, and with administrators have built relationships around the promise of FoodCorps, making relationships that endure not by any one individual, but by a mission driven by the notion that Together, We Grow Healthy Kids.
Each one of them, each one of us, has this sphere of influence through the relationships we make, the activities we create, and our FoodCorps members create when they reach out—when they reach out with all of you—because of the strength, intention, positivity, and hard work that is this FoodCorps family.