To Find Your Path, Look Under Your Feet

I still remember a funny interaction that took place when I worked in the Thomas G. Carpenter Library at the University of North Florida. Because I was a student employee, when I would request books to be purchased by the library, they usually arrived. I ordered books like Food Not Lawns, Toolbox for Sustainable City Living, and The Urban Homestead; they were books about food, gardening, and permaculture. One time, my boss who processed the requests asked, “Is this your major?” I was confused, “What?” He searched his mind for an explanation to encompass all of the foodie-gardening books I was requesting. After a pause, I said, “I wish!”

Now, I’m glowing to declare that sustainable food systems is my major at Green Mountain College. The program has been impressive beyond belief, and there are more and more out there each year. Here’s a recent review of food systems programs in higher education from Civil Eats.

I waited five years after graduating from my undergraduate degree in nutrition to begin my master’s degree. I knew when I graduated from undergrad that if I were to go on to grad school, I wanted to specialize and not get another degree in general nutrition, which is what my major really was. Through those five years I learned so much. I worked for the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) program and began to understand why it is people choose to have kids. I did my internship at Virginia State University, lived outside Florida for the first time, and became a dietitian and a barista who appreciated the quirky independent coffehouse. I quit my first job post-internship to become a wwoofer, one of the best experiences of my life so far, and I got plenty of mountain dirt under my nails that somehow worked its way into my heart. I told myself I was in the school of life. I went to herbal classes and completed a special yoga teacher training to learn about true preventive health. I sold some homegrown vegetables at a farmers’ market, moved to a new city, worked at WIC again, and finally got a job I could sink my teeth into as the farm to school liaison. I have endless gratitude for all those who helped me on my path.

As I’ve told my wonderful boss, my job as farm to school liaison has been a life changer. The opportunity gave me the confidence to finally begin my master’s program, which has shaped my life tremendously. I finally feel the purpose in my work that I felt in that drive to order all those books from my college library, an unquenchable desire to learn more and more about not only food and sustainability, but humans’ place in the world and “how we ought to live” (to quote Daniel Quinn). Somehow, being patient and authentic has allowed me to find a bite of sustenance on the path I’ve been walking for so long without knowing I was on it. Nature’s forms of efficiency are not usually straight lines, and the path of authenticity can be quite curvy.

river

This is just my story so far. As a wise person once told me, the way to move forward is one foot in front of the other. If the next step brings you closer to who you want to be, it’s the right one. And if it doesn’t, you can take a step back and you’ll probably learn even more about yourself in the process.

Summer Reflections and Looking Ahead

After the long drive back from North Carolina to Central Florida, catching up with family and friends (some still yet to see), unpacking, resting, and taking care of overdue obligations, I catch my breath and think, “What now?”

Without much perspective yet, looking back on my adventures this summer, I am so glad I did everything I did with wwoofing, traveling and being a “wexer” (work exchanger) at the Southeast Women’s Herbal Conference. I feel I’ve learned so much, clarified my goals (somewhat), and appreciated even more what Mother Earth provides. I’ve rerouted my life, checked wwoofing off my bucket list, and while some things are still ambiguous at the moment (“What do I do now?”), I feel I’m headed in a more authentic direction.

Being a wwoofer for the summer has taught me so many practical skills and lifelong lessons, given me confidence in growing my own food, raised the bar on the meanings of “fresh food” and “sustainable” to me, shown me a diversity of lifestyle alternatives to mainstream society, and, among many other positive things, allowed me to spend a lot of much-needed time outdoors. My partner, Tim, met me up in Asheville for a wonderful two-week reunion. Four days of this time we spent hiking on the Appalachian Trail.

Hiking along the Tennessee-North Carolina border.

I’d like to share a couple photos of something I did get to make myself at Long Valley farm. After mentioning to the family that I was interested in food fermentation and had done two apprenticeships with fermentation author Sandor Katz in Tennessee, they asked me if I would like to make some sauerkraut. Of course I obliged! I spent a sunny autumn afternoon picking cabbage and carrots and used some already-harvested beets, garlic and cayenne to make this kraut-chi, a mixture of sauerkraut and kim-chi.

After chopping up the vegetables.

The finished kraut-chi!

The Southeast Women’s Herbal Conference was just as magical as it was at my first attendance last year. Again, I was able to secure a work-exchange position, this year as a teacher support person for the Intensive classes. This position meant I helped the teachers move their materials to the tent, set up, mic up, pass out papers and tasty samples, and anything else they might need an extra hand with. It was such a wonderful position to have! (Last year I did dishes and directed parking.) It was fun to get to interact with the teachers more and to help the Intensives run smoothly. I enjoyed each of the classes I attended and learned so much not only about herbal medicine and healing, but, like last year, felt such a sense of empowerment and sisterhood with the women there and everywhere.

The morning view of the conference grounds from my tent.

The big decision ahead for me involves graduate school. I’ve been accepted to attend Green Mountain College’s Master of Science in Sustainable Food Systems program. Green Mountain College, located in Poultney, VT, was ranked number one green school by the Sierra Club in 2010. The program is mostly online, so I would be able to continue living in Florida. On the pros side are: I’d love to study all that the program has to offer on sustainable agriculture and food policy and history, I’ve always wanted to go to grad school, and it will set me on a path more in line with my values. On the cons side… well there’s really only one con: the cost and its implications. Since I’d rather not take out a loan, this leaves me currently looking for a full time job. I plan on applying for a scholarship offered by Annie’s foods; however, the results aren’t announced until April of next year; my program begins in January. I still think it’s worth a shot. Unfortunately, I don’t think my program, since it’s distance learning, offers any graduate assistantships or teaching opportunities. If anyone reading has any ideas for garnering scholarships or paying for grad school, I’d be grateful to hear them!

It has been amazing readjusting to life in Florida. I’ve relished in seeing my loved ones more often, enjoyed feeling summer turn to fall for the second time this year, and, maybe most of all, loved getting back into the kitchen at the Beautiful Bamboo farm, where I am living with Tim. I’ll leave you today with a couple pictures of recent creations.

homemade pizza

West African groundnut stew