Week 8: Matthew 25

March 11th, 2013

Molly Abbattista ’13, Hayzlett Fellow in Food Consumption

So this was it. The final week.

I finished up some projects (like applying for Matthew 25 to be a FoodCorps service site this year – so cool!), passed some others on (no way I had time to tackle the complex proposal for a $50,000 Wellmark Foundation grant, though I wish I could have), and filled in the extra time doing little things for Matt, like creating a PowerPoint he could use to explain Cultivate Hope to a high school leadership group (normally he’d just take them on a tour of the Farm, but, you know, snow).

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The leadership group. Can you spot me running the power-point to the left?

That was actually pretty cool to watch. Most of the kids had never heard of CSAs before, but far from looking bored when Matt told them how they could get a giant bushel of vegetables every week all summer, the girls closest to me looked at each other excitedly. “That would be SO cool,” one of them whispered. “Those peppers look amazing,” her friend whispered back. I have to be reminded over and over again that kids – and adults, for that matter – aren’t intrinsically anti-vegetable. If the only vegetables I’d ever encountered were from a can or an anemic McDonald’s salad, I’d probably be anti-vegetable myself. But our natural state is just to love good food. Matt told me recently that he made a kale-and-brown-rice bowl for dinner and his 8- and 10-year-old boys just inhaled it (can you blame them?). There is magic in quality and preparation. This is why the youth food activists I met in Ames last summer talked about “reclaiming” the American diet; they want to eat tasty vegetables. I want to eat tasty vegetables. So here we all are, working towards a real food economy in a country where the admonition “eat your vegetables!” is an identifiable part of our Leave-It-To-Beaver cultural heritage.

Speaking of vegetables, we also made food for the Taylor Elementary Healthy Families Night this week. I wish we could have gone to help serve and talk to families about the Farm and Matthew 25 in general, but because the event was moved to last Thursday due to snow, we couldn’t actually go to help out. We did, however, make food for 150 people. Great roasting pans of chili, chicken rice soup, and minestrone filled the Groundswell space with the aromas of sizzling ground beef, sauteed onions, cumin, and fresh thyme. We also had piles of sliced fresh vegetables with ranch, loaves of bread, and jars upon jars of unsweetened applesauce to round out the menu. I hope everyone enjoyed it. I love cooking for crowds, it feels like the loaves and the fishes. So much joy for so many people!

Doesn't quite due justice to the fact that we bought fifteen jars of applesauce.

Doesn’t quite due justice to the fact that we bought fifteen jars of applesauce.

A short retrospective:

I think it will take me months, if not years, to really understand everything I learned from this Fellowship. From this close to it, I’m having a hard time distinguishing new knowledge from things I knew before; it all just feels like part of me, the integrated collection of facts and opinions on which I am, as we speak, basing my future choices. Of all the helpful and awesome aspects of the whole experience, I think the most important has been the opportunity to observe and work with the people at Matthew 25. I am still very much developing my idea of myself as a leader, of what that means and looks like. Matt’s lack of artifice and attention to efficiency; Clint’s energy and ability to joke while getting serious things done; Courtney’s listening skills and gentle snarkiness; Jenny’s easy smile and incisive comments – I hope I can take these leadership lessons from all of them. I have always been lucky in my role models. It’s super cool when those people can also be your friends.

Oddly enough, I think my biggest regret is that I didn’t take more pictures. That sounds silly, but I think it’s actually just a symptom of my feeling that I could have engaged more fully, been more committed, and maybe even gotten more out of the experience than I already did. If I had tried harder, the line of reasoning goes in my head, I would have been in more situations that warranted pictures. But I am trying to move past this slightly ridiculous logic, because I know how much I learned, and I know that the good people at M25 appreciated my work, because they told me so. “You can’t go 100% all the time,” Matt told me at one point. “You’ll drive everyone around you crazy.” I think I’m going to hold on to that insight. It’s a good one.

This Fellowship has also really helped me crystallize what I want my future to look like. Food is definitely the right direction, but I desperately want to do more with plants and people and waaaaaaaaay less with computers. I want to learn to farm, but I also want to go back to the city; I want urban agriculture to be part of my life. While I believe their work is incredibly important, I am not at all drawn to work with organizations who are focused on temporary solutions to hunger – getting more eligible families to sign up for government benefits, for example, or expanding the capacity of food banks. I am interested in system-level changes that address the cause, not the symptoms, of our broken national relationship with food. And I still care very much about policy. Sometimes you have to change the world so that the policies can follow; this is probably true of national food and farm policy like the Farm Bill. But sometimes, as Matthew 25 did when they convinced Cedar Rapids to reverse the ban on growing food for sale within city limits, you can change a policy as an initial step in your plan to change the world. So I’m gonna go to Chicago and seek out the systems-thinkers, the policy people, and the farmers. I have so much to learn from them! I’m impatient to start, haha. I guess graduation will be here soon enough, probably sooner than I want. But I feel so much more prepared for it than I did two months ago, which is why this opportunity has been such a gift.

Thanks, Cornell Fellows!

all my best,
Molly

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