by FoodCorps Service Member Susie Burton
In about a week, I will finish two years of FoodCorps service. I will complete my end of term evaluation, sign my exit paperwork, and collect all the garden-themed picture books and child-safe nylon knives lurking in every corner of my house to return to our office. I will turn over maintenance of our school gardens to our very capable farm to school teams and some stellar parent volunteers, and wish and hope with all my might that the heavy rains don’t cause our tomatoes to split before students can taste them in August.
I will wish and hope with all my might that some small piece of my service–one of the hundreds of lessons taught, one of the thousands of taste test samples distributed or seeds planted–will stick with students, will actually help to accomplish the massive, abstract task of “changing our food system.” But there’s no way to truly know, short of peeking into their homes to see if they’re asking their parents to buy greens for smoothies, or peeking into the future to see if they pursue culinary or horticultural interests as adolescents and adults. Forgive me the trite food movement metaphor, but the inability to predict or control an outcome is precisely what makes farming–and farm to school–risky, thrilling, and life affirming. You can plan your rows and your lessons, read up on integrated pest management and culturally responsive pedagogical practices, and give all your tender loving care to your seedlings and your students. In the end, though, the bounty of the harvest is determined by your careful planning and attention and also by uncontrollable and sometimes unseen forces of the universe, in microorganisms, soil mechanics, and lucky weather.
Faith in those uncontrollable forces makes this work not work but a vocation–a way to live. We are dependent on the mycelia and microforces of our soils and our communities for growth and harvest. By default, that dependence connects us with fellow humans and our natural and physical world, constantly reminding us of the necessity and the beauty of reciprocity. Reciprocity between the physical, the vegetal, the animal, and the human grows our crops and grows our students. Once again forgive my triteness, but we accomplish nothing alone. As I close my service with FoodCorps, beneath the small worry that the tomatoes might split or the weeds might overtake the strawberry bed, I feel so much gratitude for the two years I was in a position that constantly reminded me of my niche in Northeast Georgia and in our greater food and educational systems, that constantly reminded me of the importance of both nuanced, thoughtful planning and of faith in reciprocity, as a way to garden, teach, and live.
[In lieu of photos directly relevant to this post, enjoy some highlights from our 2017 Farm+Food Camp, co-hosted with Habersham County 4H in June!]