Written by Service-Learning Program Assistant and Co-op Jasmine Cheung
Pictured above (Top photo from left to right): Dr. Becca Berkey with her students hard at work shoveling, planting and dropping scallion seeds.
On a sunny Wednesday afternoon two weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to tag along with the Food Justice and Community Development class taught by Dr. Becca Berkey to work with The Food Project (TFP) in Roxbury. This class delves into an important but often overlooked issue: environmental justice and community development and the dilemmas of the food system in the US. By working with The Food Project, the students were able to gain hands on experience and also learn more about how this nonprofit organization contributes to building a sustainable food system in Boston.
The evening started off with Danielle Andrews, the Dudley Greenhouse manager giving us an overview and history of TFP. Founded in 1991, TFP’s mission is to work together and engage young people in “personal and social change through sustainable agriculture“. Through the hard work of teenagers and volunteers, the food from the farm is distributed to various places: farmers’ markets, donated to shelters and local hunger relief organizations, and community supported agriculture programs. After the informative overview of TFP, we went into the Dudley Greenhouse, which is a space for TFP and its community partners to grow vegetables and herbs in raised beds.
There was so much to explore in the Greenhouse, and I would’ve loved to learn more about it but time did not allow for it that day. We had to get moving on planting some scallions for the day! Ruthanne Brandy, a current Northeastern student in Dr. Berkey’s class but also a part-time staff member from TFP delegated tasks for the eight of us. For the first half of the afternoon I was in charge of raking with Ruthanne, which consisted of flattening and spreading the soil across the beds, and the others either plowed or transported soil to the beds. I largely underestimated how difficult it would be because Ruthanne made it look super easy, but I started losing strength and power twenty minutes in. Fortunately the weather was ideal for this type of activity. It was warm with a slight breeze, and that made the experience a lot more enjoyable.
Whilst raking I was chatting with Ruthanne and inquired about her experience working with TFP and summer classes. She mentioned how working at TFP has given her the amazing opportunity to not only learn everything in class and directly apply it to her work, but also gain hands on experience that the textbook and lectures can’t offer. Apart from learning about her personal experience, I also learned more about environmental justice issues and the food system in the US. The knowledge she shared with me about the unjust treatment of farm workers in the US, the importance of supporting local farmers in farmers’ markets, and how profitable supermarkets are were all new information to me. While I did know some of this prior to our conversation, I never knew the extent of these issues and am grateful for her quick crash course on this topic.
The final step was to drop and plant the scallions, and that was a lot less strenuous than raking. Although it was physically demanding at times, it was very refreshing to step out of the office and spend a day not only learning about a new topic, but also getting to meet all the students from Dr. Berkey’s class and also the staff members at TFP. Everyone had this energy and passion that was very contagious, and I had an enjoyable time there. After visiting the TFP, I have become more curious and aware of the current food system in the US. By realizing that I could along with other people contribute to a more equitable and fair food system simply by going to farmers’ markets, buying more organic food and etc, has made me optimistic and hopeful for the future of food.
In addition to learning the material through a classroom setting, there are tons of field trips available as well that makes this such a dynamic, informative and unique class. Overall I had a blast and I strongly encourage students who are interested in food justice to take this course.
Incoming 1st-Year students in the NU Explore Program can register for a 1 credit version of this course in Fall 2017 called Food Justice and Social Change with Dr. Berkey. (CRN 15669 Time 11:45am-1:25pm)