Taking a Bite Out of Service

Imagine you’re an eight year old sitting in front of your entire third grade class. You can’t see them because of the bandana tied around your eyes, but you can feel them all staring at you. Their uncharacteristic silence makes you wriggle in your chair and smile nervously. You hear Miss Amber slowly open a cooler behind you, and the class ERUPTS into a flurry of gasps and giggles and exclamations of “wuuuuuut??? oh man!!” As she places a mystery food in front of you the chaos calms again to silence, the pressure rises, and the countdown begins. 3…2…1…

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I watched this exact scenario unfold about 50 times over the past month or so, and it was as exciting the last time as the first. My classes and I are working our way through an eat-the-rainbow unit, and a few weeks ago we focused on the color orange. We talked about our favorite orange fruits and vegetables and the parts of our bodies that really benefit from eating carrots, cantaloupe, and sweet potatoes. Their favorite part of the activity, however, was the blind taste-test competition. I blindfolded student volunteers and handed them a sample of an orange fruit or vegetable . The first person to identify the snack based on taste, smell, and texture “won” that round. It’s pretty much the only activity they want to do now.

I’m halfway through my first year of service with FoodCorps and when I think back to how I felt when I began, it seems a lot like how my 3rd grade friends likely felt during that blind taste-test. I was nervous but excited. I was a little anxious but also really eager. I wasn’t really sure what I was getting myself into, but I was sure it’d be worth it. Thinking back, there were a few key things that helped give me the courage to step out into that uncertainty, and watching the students step into the uncertainty of our taste test activity helped me realize what those things were.

Faith in the goodness of the general product.

When I thanked one of the student for volunteering she responded saying, “even if I don’t like the orange thing you give us it’ll make my eyes and immune system healthy, so why not?!”

I knew I’d be gardening and cooking with kids and communities, but didn’t really know the specifics of what my service was going to look like day to day. I DID know that I’d be helping connect kids to real food in schools and grow up healthy though, “so why not?!”

A good track record.

The most exciting round for each class was the orange bell pepper, and at least one student was always worried that it was hot pepper when I revealed it. Usually I didn’t have to reassure them, because one of their classmates would remind them that “Miss Amber only gives us good stuff!!” I hadn’t known them long, but in our short time together they’d already come to trust me because of the fun things we’d been doing for the past six months.

Similarly, FoodCorps is a relatively young organization, but we’ve got a good track record. We can look back over the past 5 years and see kids having more opportunities to eat fresh foods and schools becoming healthier places to learn and grow. We’ve had our fair share of challenges, but 98% of responding community partners say that they highly value the work of FoodCorps in their community! That’s a good sign.

A solid support system.

Whenever a kid’s name was called they were met with cheers, pats on the back, and “aw yeah – go get it!” They knew that they had 20 other kids rooting for them and on their side no matter what happens.

For me, stepping into unknown spaces is always easier when I’ve got a team to support me. The community that I’ve found at FoodCorps and with our NC cohort is constantly giving me the advice, encouragement, and confidence I need to be a better service member.

It turns out that service has been challenging but not nearly as scary as I was expecting, and I think my 3rd graders would say the same thing about orange fruits and vegetables. Sometimes I still feel like I’m tumbling around not knowing what to do or expect, but I when I revisit these things that made me sign up in the first place I’m ready to take another bite.