It’s hard to believe that this ASB’s really over. Was it only 11 weeks ago that we met up for the first time in the Nitery and ate some of Aliza’s amazing chocolate chip cookies? What about the improv name game? Or the mini activism and allyship class?
I’ll admit that I wasn’t sure what to expect from this trip, but was more than pleasantly surprised. I was always interested in farms but had never really looked as much how our land systems worked with the ocean (which, by the way, covers 71% of the Earth’s surface). I’m now that much closer to understanding some of my friends’ obsessions with the deep unknown of the water surrounding us.
Something that stuck out to me was how effective children are at motivating their own communities to change their behavior. Although some of the organizations we met with dealt mainly with others who already had environmental beliefs, a good number of the places we visited also provided examples of how to involve others in environmentalism. Oftentimes, children were the starting force in getting their families to change their behavior for the better. Sophia from ALBA decided to join because her children talked to her more about organic food. The high schoolers in the WATCH program were getting their own families to compost and recycle. Parents were going to WIC to learn more how to provide better food for their children. The Monterey Bay Aquarium worked hard to get children from all socio-economic backgrounds interested in their water and get them thinking beyond environment. If not for this trip, I wouldn’t have valued the power of educating children about the the natural world as much as I do now.
Post-trip, I’m more certain that I want to learn more about agriculture, food and farming. I’m also very thankful for Grace and Aliza’s hard work throughout the quarter and the trip, constantly organizing and planning what we were doing each day. They did an fantastic job keeping us well-fed, well-housed while creating a close group for our trip.
Thank you to everyone who made this trip work so well!
To end our trip, we found ourselves at UC Santa Cruz’s garden which is home to research, a gardener’s program and an organization called Food What?! Doron, from Food What?!, gave us a tour of the UCSC farm on the way to the organization’s own patch of land. We passed through gorgeous fields in front of an ocean view, providing a perfect ending to our Farms by Oceans themed spring break. We got to pick strawberries, see professor’s houses that had been built on perfectly good farmland, and even see a patch where researchers were looking at the effects of vinegar on blueberries.
After the scenic walk, we made it to Food What?!’s site, which, while completely separate from UCSC, is on their property. The program targets low-income and at risk youth that empowers them to make healthier food choices in their lives. Teens are exposed to classes, including “Hip Hop and Soda” and leadership classes as well as learning how to grow and cook dishes incorporating a rainbow of vegetables. Those who complete the program are later able to receive paid jobs with various outreach projects or even receive college credit if needed.
When Doron had to run off, we met James, another farmer in the area who had left his job in Manhattan to be a farmer in the area. James also had a wealth of knowledge and experience about farming and we were able to have many of our questions answered while helping with Food What?! maintenance. We moved compost between bins and spread redwood chips around the areas. Afterwards, we interacted with some pretty funky chickens featuring feathers on their feet.
We also heard Joe’s spotlight while sucking nectar out of some Salvia flowers, which were quite delicious. The highway traffic was brutal on the way back, so we decided to take side roads and passed through some coastal towns that we would not have been able to see. Not long after we had returned “home” (Aliza’s house), we cooked a lovely “Last Supper” and met her wonderful parents.
The night ended late– past 1am!– but we got to reflect on our experiences this past week and learned more about Grace’s life with some Trader Joe’s goodies. It’s too early to write a final reflection on this trip, as we still have 11 hours before it officially ends, but thank you to all of you who have been following our adventures! We hope you’ve had as much fun as we have had exploring things outside of the classroom.
Tony met us at the ALBA Distribution Center, which was a pretty bleak building. But like the WATCH kids we met the day before, appearances can be deceiving. Tony had some really good insights about the food system, and had some interesting feelings about Driscoll’s, too.
Aliza: “I’m interested about the relationship between you and other corporate distributors, like Driscoll’s.”
Tony: “There is none.”
He later elaborated that he didn’t like how Driscoll’s (who we kind of love because of all the free berries and hats) was running small farmers out of business. Even though the RCD at Driscoll’s thought that they were doing good by employing small farmers and giving them good deals, other small farmers would be run out of business, since the retailers wouldn’t buy the small farmers’ produce (Whole Foods, say).
The dreams of the farmers that ALBA carries on its trucks and strawberries beamed a rosier light on the distribution building as we left. Tony started his little tour by talking about the ALBA system, where strawberries are the byproducts of their actual products: they grow farmers, not produce.
From left to middle: The USDA’s new “My Plate,” which replaces the previous “Food Pyramid.”
Right: Harvard Med School’s take on “My Plate”
Today in class, we talked a lot about food deserts and what restricted people’s access to healthy food. However, something that I couldn’t let go of was the question: What is healthy food?
In middle school, we were given nutrition classes, where we learned our generation was set to be the most overweight in history. We were told that our stomach was the size of our two fists and warned against eating food that exceeded the size. This was back in the day when the government’s food pyramid told us to make most of our food carbohydrates. Whole grains didn’t matter and caloric restriction was emphasized. I ignored the information.
Only 6 years later, the government has scrapped the pyramid in favor of “My Plate,” which now emphasizes making half of one’s plate fruit and vegetables– a recommendation that now falls in line with what I’ve been doing most of my life.
With examples like this, it’s no wonder that people don’t know what is good food. Interning in a corporate office this summer opened my eyes to people’s different definitions of what health meant. For some, it was a side of green beans cooked in butter. Others preferred Lean Cuisine. Overall, the general consensus was that only salad could be truly good for you. Weight loss was a constant concern for many, which turned food into the enemy to resist rather than a source of nourishment.
Nutrition and healthy food definitions change so often that I have all but given up following the recommended advice. When people ask me what’s best to eat, I would point them to Michael Pollan: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
My mom immigrated from the Philippines to work as a nurse in the America. She enjoyed her job; the only problem was that she did not see the value in many of the medications she was giving to her patients. When she left the job to take care of me, she soon became immersed in preventative and homeopathic health remedies, which greatly influenced my family’s lifestyle. For example, our eating habits were strictly controlled. While all my classmates got to eat white bread, we could only have brown. We rarely ate grilled food for fear of carcinogens. Desserts were restricted to fruit, and a small bag of potato chips was a treasure I had to share with my sister. Each day, we’d take multivitamins and eat a brazil nut. The only oil in the house was olive oil. Because eating at fast food restaurants or purchasing unhealthy food was deemed “expensive” and “wasteful,” I learned to bake with whole wheat flour, reduced sugar and butter alternatives.
When I started getting interested in environmental issues, it wasn’t soon before this interest began to cross paths with my obsessive healthy food background. After writing to the non-profit called Friends of the Earth in elementary school, I received a magazine from them highlighting natural foods. One article described a middle-income family who only ate organic after the father began his job as a food inspector. They would buy meat in bulk and save the bones after meals for soup and grow some of their own vegetables to cut costs. As a family, we started to start buying produce straight from the farm as well as transitioning to more organic produce. The reasoning was two-fold: organic produce not only had fewer pesticide residues, but also helped the planet. After reading up on composting and chemical-free farming methods, I began to grow simple plants in my backyard and composting our food scraps. My garden taught me what fresh broad beans and potatoes really tasted like– cooked right after being harvested. Vegetables no longer had to be bland boiled additions to a meal: they could also bring their own distinct flavors to add texture and interest.
However, there’s a part that has always been missing in this story: the large farms from where our food comes from and how the environment handles it. Through this asb, I’m looking forward to learning more about the issues that are going on from the perspective of people living in agricultural areas.