The time flew far, far away, and here I am at the beginning of a new ‘back to school’ year serving my second term as a FoodCorps service member with the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative at Luther College. I remember last year. I remember when asking for advice on how to approach my service term, a returning service member let me know that I’d pretty much have no idea what I was doing until January. Even with that advice, my unshakable belief in real food and healthy kids lead me to enter Day 1 of my service year feeling like I was going to change the world. Flash forward to Day 30, after my first month of service, and I still had not taught a lesson in a classroom. I was struggling to learn and remember names. My belief in real food for all kids was as strong as ever, but I wondered if I was making any impact.
Winter break came and went and by the time January rolled around, I had this moment where I thought, “A-ha, now I kind of understand WHAT I do and HOW I do it.” In that moment, the stars of my service year were aligning. I was starting to understand my service at the same time that I was forming the first ever Oelwein Community School District Garden Committee. I had decided to form a committee because committees have staying power. The Garden Committee would involve the school and the community while giving them ownership over the outdoor-classroom, garden space.
I waited for the first committee meeting to begin on a cold, sub-zero night in January. Despite the freezing temperatures, I was sweating and a bit nauseous wondering if anyone would show up. At the meeting that evening there was a local farmer, a master gardener, the district superintendent, the elementary school counselor, a student, a couple of teachers, a few community members, and two parents. I hadn’t exactly harassed these people into showing up, but I had very politely asked each person in an individual conversation (some of them multiple times) to attend that night’s meeting.
I had a personal relationship with each and every person who attended that night.
The Master Gardener was there because I had taken the county’s master gardener class in the fall as a way to meet people who support school gardens in my community. The local farmer was there because I had made a point to visit the Oelwein Farmers Market, introduce myself to the producers, and start talking with them about farm to school programming. One of my student’s dad was there because he had met me in the check-out line at Farm and Fleet and asked me, “What is FoodCorps?”, referring to my navy blue hoodie.
So all of those hours not teaching lessons in my first month of service were not in vain, and all of those months feeling unsure of how exactly to best serve the community were in vain; because, meeting people and talking to them about what I do was invaluable to my service in the community. Even more importantly was the time I took to ask each person about what they do and how we might collaborate to make the Oelwein Community and schools a place where kids grow up healthy.
Now, I know that I did not change the world in my first year of service, because no one person changes the world. Together, with the Garden Committee, the Master Gardeners, FFA, local farmers, the school district, and community, I know that we built a beautiful school garden and outdoor classroom. I know that in that garden we planted hundreds of seeds, together. And those seeds will grow up to change the world.