Mr. Tomato and Nugget the Chicken

August 12 2016

Food is a right, not a privilege. But some do have privileges that allow them to exercise that right more freely than others. I have been extremely privileged in that regard throughout my life. I grew up on a farm, where we always had our own garden and livestock. I also lived in an area where other foods we wanted/needed were low cost. When I started law school and moved to a food desert in Baltimore I lost a (small) portion of that privilege. Because I grew up on a farm, I feel like my life has centered around food production, first inadvertently and now intentionally. After law school, I intend to pursue food law, approaching it from a public health perspective to combat food deserts and increase access to healthy foods for people in urban and rural environments.
My inspiration/motivation, and the explainer of the subject line, comes from my experience working with an organization called Amir (google Amir Project if you’re interested). My explanation of the organization is that Amir uses informal garden education at summer camps to teach kids about social justice. Amir hires college students and trains them to become Farmers at camps. Of course, working with the organization over two summers revealed that it was more than that. I saw the organization lay the groundwork to expand past summer camps, to year-round gardens. The work was fulfilling because I didn’t just see the campers we worked with grow and learn, but the Farmers as well. I happened to be working at a camp with a high tuition rate (about $5,000/month), with campers whose parents could afford to shop at Whole Foods. But that didn’t halt their sense of wonder when they saw a tomato plant in the garden for the first time or picked their own chocolate mint and muddled it.
During one of our discussions, we used weeds as a metaphor for problems we encounter in real life, and discussed how they could be weeded out. This was followed by a removal of weeds from our lettuce bed. One of the young campers, 7 years old at the time, found a tomato plant in the lettuce bed. The other Farmer and I explained that yes, that tomato plant was a weed in the lettuce bed, because we hadn’t planted it there on purpose. The young camper wanted to keep it, though, so we helped her transplant it to a wooden raised bed. She named it Mr. Tomato. When I came back for my second summer at camp, Mr. Tomato wasn’t there, but he had left seeds that grew into volunteers, so his family was there to greet that camper.
Another program component was our animals. The first summer, we had ten chickens. Like some of the plants, campers had not interacted with chickens that were still clucking. One of the older campers coined the name Nugget for one of the hens, and made sure to walk by every day and say “Hi” to her.
My experience with this program was transformative. However, I think many of the lessons can be replicated anywhere you can grow food and share it with people. We all eat, so why don’t we have more of a connection with our food? There will be ethical considerations, about the use of pesticides, GMOs, or the labor that goes into food production. But we can cut many of those out if we follow our food from seed to table. And if that doesn’t interest you, playing in the dirt is just as fun now as when you were a kid!

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Baltimore, Maryland

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