Agriculture education changed the life of this FoodCorps service member

So, I’m first-generation
Ethiopian-American. Both my parents were born
and raised in Ethiopia, but I was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Growing up, I had my grandparents and other family members
that would live with me in my house for various periods of time, so it really connected me to
my culture and my heritage. And in Ethiopian culture,
food is a huge part of bringing people together. We sit around a big platter. You’re eating- Everyone’s eating from the same platter, and you’re using your hands. You’re feeding each other. It’s really bonding with your food and with the people around you. So I think this is where I first started to appreciate food, and I
got this deep love for food. I remember when it was time to be cooking the food. It takes all day to cook Ethiopian food. And the spices are so strong, I would run into my
room and close the door so the smell didn’t get on my hair or on my clothes
(audience laughing) ’cause it would last all week, and I couldn’t go to school
smelling like Ethiopian food. But eventually, cooking
got moved to the garage, I think to spare our couches and our carpet as well from the same fate. And I grew up in the suburbs, so I never really had any time on the farm or any experience in a farm, except one time in kindergarten, I went on a field trip to
Domino’s Farm actually, and we went to the barn, and they
taught us how to milk a cow. And in this demonstration, they
proceeded to spray us down with milk directly from the cow’s udder for some bizarre reason.
(audience laughs) And that’s the only
experience I have on a farm. (audience laughs) Then, fast forward to my
junior year of college. I went to Michigan State,
big agriculture school, and I pursued a degree in
food industry management. The curriculum of food industry management was similar to the ag business curriculum, so a lot of my classes were
in an agriculture sense. I took- My finance class was actually
called farm management, so I learned about balancing books of building a barn or purchasing a cow, and everything was…
(audience laughs) In commodities senses and
large cash crop senses, and I just began to
formulate the idea of a farm with many acres, really large like the ones you see on
the side of the highway and still, yet, no experience. It was all theoretical for me. Now fast forward to now, and
when someone asks me what I do, I can either tell them
the long explanation or the short explanation, and
usually my short explanation is met with a “Oh, that’s
so cool, but what is that?” So, I have to give
(audience laughs) the long one anyways. And, I’m gonna tell you the short one, but, just disclaimer, it’s not very short. (audience laughs)
I am a FoodCorps, AmeriCorps service member, serving
at a Detroit Community- Detroit Public Schools
Community District’s Office of School Nutrition’s Farm and Garden
Collaborative’s Drew Farms. (laughing) Drew Farm is this hidden gem, and there’s many of these hidden gems, and when I say hidden gems, I mean urban farms around the city. It’s huge in Detroit, and
Drew is this big diamond on the West Side. It’s connected to the Charles
R. Drew Transition Center, but it’s owned and operated by the Office of School Nutrition. All the food produced at
Drew is sent to the schools that are serviced by the
Office of School Nutrition. And to give you some perspective, the last year, if all the
food that was produced was given to the students in what… It would be able to feed every student at the district for one day. So, I think that’s pretty cool. I don’t know about you guys, but Drew Farms is about 2.5 acres, and we have six high tunnels, and if you don’t know
what high tunnels are, I didn’t know what they were until I started at Drew
so it’s totally fine, but they are big,
greenhouse-like structures that are meant to extend
seasons of the plants inside. And so, five of these six are
used for production mostly and are laid out to optimize production, while the sixth one is primarily
for educational purposes. So, we have it laid out so that we can have the most variety of plants and different types of foods
that are growing there. And every Wednesday in
the fall and the spring, we have students that come
from all over the district for an all-expense paid field trip, and we take them into this high tunnel. And they get to touch. They get to taste. They get to smell. They get to use all their senses. They get to harvest. They get to water. They really get to feel
like they are working and… A farmer basically. So one day, it was
Halloween, and I remember all the students coming off the bus, and they were all dressed
up in their costumes that I know they’ve been
waiting weeks to wear. And then we have five Black
Panthers, three princesses. They were incredible,
(audience laughs) and they came down, and they
went into the high tunnel, and they started touching. They started tasting, They started smelling. They got to harvest. They got to water. They were getting dirty. They really didn’t care
about their costumes anymore. They were just really having a great time. And it was incredible to see these kids that were coming from like they… Sorry, it was incredible
to see the students that were like just
loving to see the farm, and they were touching everything, and then they were asking
all these questions about the plants and the… The vegetables, and then they… Some of them maybe have
never been on a farm before. Some of them are just first time seeing where their food is coming from, and one kid came up to me and he asked- Said, “I want to be a farmer now.” And it kind of took me back
to when I was a kindergartner in a barn getting sprayed down by milk (audience laughs)
from a cow’s udder and that being the only,
or one of the only memories I have from kindergarten, and it kind of makes me feel really
happy that, hopefully, maybe this student might
remember the farm experience he had way further down the line. And that’s why I’m so happy and proud to be serving at Drew Farms
as a FoodCorps service member. Thank you.
(audience clapping)


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