Why I’m a Beet

If you were a vegetable, what would you be and why? We all know it as the FoodCorps question. When I applied to be a service member almost two years ago, this question had me stumped. I decided to go to my friends, family and professors for inspiration. If you want to know what people really think of you, ask them what vegetable they think you would be. I got all kinds of answers; my best friend told me I’d be a mushroom because of my muffin top (she thinks she’s funny), my senior mentor told me a bell pepper because of its versatility, and my dad told me a fresh summer tomato because it’s sweet and a staple on our plate. All of these seemed like adequate answers but I kept digging. Then one day, a farmer I worked for at the time had me plant some beets.

At the time, I knew nothing about beets – I had no idea what they tasted like, how to prepare them of really how they grew. I decided to look into them, mostly so I didn’t look incompetent when it came time to harvest, but also I was planning to grow food for a living – I should know what a beet is. The more I read, the more it made sense to me. I was a red beet.

My vegetable answer went a little like this: “If I were a vegetable, I would be a red beet because they have strong roots, grow fast, and create nutritious leaves, even under challenging conditions.”

Now that I’m a year and a half into my service, that statement is truer than ever. My roots run deep: in my hometown in Virginia, but also in the rural town of Marshall, Arkansas; where I teach garden-based science and nutrition education at the elementary school and work with others striving for community health.

When I moved to Marshall, I was at a service site that had been with FoodCorps for a while and there were great things done by those before me. Pressure isn’t the right word for what I was feeling, but I did really want to meet expectations. So, I dove right into service. Teaching, gardening, lesson planning, meeting everyone. Whew- it’s been a whirlwind, but I grew fast.

Even though beets are known as a root vegetable, beet greens are actually the most nutritious part of the plant. They can survive freezing temperatures and springtime sun, brisk fall days and even some summer heat. No matter the conditions, challenging or ideal, you’re going to grow nutritious beet greens. I look at it this way – it doesn’t matter if my school garden produces hundreds of pounds of produce or if my kids think most vegetables are gross. What matters is that I’m there, everyday working with the students at my school. And although service can be tough, the work we do everyday is the beet leaves.

As you might be able to tell, I’ve become quite obsessed with beets. They are one of my favorite vegetables now. While my service term in Marshall is nearing an end this year, I’ll be spending my final spring and summer with students, planting these seeds that will inspire kids to grow their own strong roots, and continue on the good work that is happening here- no matter what the conditions may be.