The Food Project: Youth. Food. Community.

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The Food Project's Winter Institute builds community among attendees from around the country

Lucy Sweeney, Development Officer for Individual Giving and Events at The Food Project, writes about her experience at the Winter Institute. She is on the left in the front row in the photo above. 

Last week, I participated in The Food Project’s Winter Institute. As a relative “newbie” to the staff, I was hoping to gain a deeper understanding of our Seed, Dirt, and Root Crews, from soup to nuts. By the end of the third day I came away with that and much more; mainly, I felt a deep sense of awareness and connection to an inspiring network of people and organizations working for food justice across the U.S.  Throughout the weekend, the experience surprised me in several unexpected ways. Here’s a glimpse of what I found to be most unique about the Institute:

The community
The very first thing that struck me was the vast distances participants traveled from to join us, covering nearly every region of the country. There was Mike and Barry from Anchorage, AK; Catherine and Priscilla from Anthony, NM; Miles from Memphis, TN; and Natasha from upstate NY, to name a few. I felt honored to be included in this group, with so much collective knowledge in the room and diverse experiences to be shared. With buzzing enthusiasm and camaraderie, the group quickly gelled, and I could see how the connections and relationships seeded here could easily grow into partnerships and friendships that last.

The transparency
Day one began with introductions, reflections, and an in-depth review of The Food Project’s history. What struck me was the way which Cindy Davenport, our Director of Programming and Institutional Learning, presented our history with such honesty and transparency. Rather than outshining our bumpy times with an impressive success story, she painted a full picture of opportunities and challenges we’ve faced during our 20+ years as an organization. The message was clear: there is no magic recipe to follow, and we have made our fair share of mistakes; the work is messy, and it’s the work we are committed to doing. It was clear how empowering this was to the participants, facing similar hurdles while charting a course of their own.

The proof: our youth!
Another thing that knocked my socks off was our interactions with the young people in Dirt and Root Crews. The first activity Thursday evening was lead by Kim, a self-described “Dirty,” and Aiden, a Dirt Crew ACL (Assistant Crew Leader), who blew us away while facilitating the group. The bar was raised yet again by our tour guide Matthew, whose rich depiction of the Dudley neighborhood concealed any inkling that this was in fact his first tour! Seeing the youth in action was the highlight; their contagious energy, curiosity, and critical thinking gave both inspiration and encouragement, and proof of the potential young people have when given the space to grow and thrive.

The connection to the land
A final piece that struck a chord for me was the emphasis on place. Despite the ground being frozen solid under several feet of snow, we spent time on the land to understand and appreciate the unique patches of earth we work and rely upon. Bundled up in hats and scarves, we walked our 31-acre Lincoln farm, and trekked through snowy streets to the Dudley greenhouse and West Cottage farm in Boston, as context and recognition replaced a “not much to see here!” attitude. Though the farms lay dormant, we acknowledged our tie to the land, how it shapes our cycle of work. While we don’t slow down much in winter, we become more introspective, letting the earth rest as we thoughtfully plan for the fruitful months ahead.

If you are interested in participating in our Summer Institute, stay tuned! More information and dates will be posted mid March.


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