When I first began applying to FoodCorps, I had my sights set on cities not so near home. I had been part of a great social scene in a college town doing college-y things and I was ready for everything except going back “home.” To me, serving close to home meant I was doing a safe thing. I could feel the eyes of friends and family waiting to see what far away thing my college degree would propel me into next, and going home after college just did not seem to fit that bill.
After going through several interviews, I got a phone call. “Hey, where are you?” said a man’s voice with a southern accent I recognized from home. “Um, I’m at the grocery store…who is this?” “Ma’am, I’m calling from Van Buren, Arkansas about your FoodCorps application and we’d like to interview you.” In my head I was laughing a little bit. I was in my hometown of Fort Smith for the summer, only about 10 minutes away from Van Buren. When I walked into the interview in my dress and blazer, I was met with jeans and casual shirts, and welcoming conversation about more than just my job experience. I was met with a lot of “Oh, do you know so-and-so… We called them…Yes, we go to church together… We sit together at the football games!…“ I left that interview with a sense of comfort and familiarity and friendship, feelings I had seemingly been trying to flee. Five minutes later, the Facebook friend requests began rolling in.
Fast forward three months down the line and I’m sitting at my desk at my new service position in Van Buren, Arkansas. I’m at Rena Elementary School, a new service site without a garden, and I’m trying my best to secure grant money to work alongside them to establish a space that students and staff can be proud of. A small task, right? No. I had been denied grant after grant and I was really hitting a wall. I called one of my high school friends to discuss my woes when she said, “Just call my dad! He’ll donate whatever you need from his landscaping company.” That was how we began to establish our school garden, through relationships.
When I took on this position so close to home, I was caught wanting to be so independent in this work that I was shutting out the community support surrounding me. In my eyes, it was a failure to have to utilize my personal community ties in my professional work. Now, with 10 raised garden beds established entirely through donations, and a successful garden build day where everyone and their tractor (not a joke) showed up to help, I could not be more proud of this tight-knit community support system. Serving close to home has allowed me to see my community with new eyes and to appreciate its characteristics in new ways. This community continues to rise up around these schools, and individuals and businesses are offering what they can to make sure that students are better connected to healthy foods.
I am so thankful for that casual phone conversation that drew me into FoodCorps service in Van Buren. I could not have predicted the ways in which this work would challenge me and stretch me in my own personal growth. Serving close to home is not something to be sheepish about, but something I’ve learned to embrace and highly encourage others to explore. Serve your community wholeheartedly, embrace your relationships, and your community will serve you in ways you never imagined.
Interested in serving with FoodCorps? Applications open in January, but you can start planning ahead now. Get more information.