Wednesday, March 10, 2010

using food to make friends and influence people!

I must start this entry with an apology -- I have been lagging on my blog responses! I have been far busier and stressed these couple weeks than I would have liked, but I am just starting to see a light (and a spring break in Boston) at the end of the tunnel.

This week, we have a blog prompt contributed by a group of my fellow fellows, and it reads: "Have you used food in a professional or personal situation to get something done ar achieve a goal? THEN, share with us with a recipe or dish!

Well here's a blog prompt I can speak to quite easily! For me, my entree into the foodie world really began when I graduated college and began working and living on an educational farm and open space preserve called Hidden Villa. I was charged with developing, publicizing, and implementing educational programs, all while living amidst an idyllic farm nestled in the California foothills which produced livestock and vegetables. During that period, we didn't just use food to achieve a goal: food WAS our goal. I taught youth and family about the ecology and farming principles that went into our Community Supported Agriculture system, and at the end of the day went home to eat delicious meals lovingly grown and prepared by friends. Food became a means of connection to our place, the changing of the seasons, and to our community.

After that lucky stint, I then went off to Costa Rica and Ecuador, where I volunteered for several sustainable agriculture and environmental education organizations, most notable of which was a participatory research organization called MACRENA (you can read about the organization here). Through "Escuelas de Campo", the organization works with community leaders in rural and indigenous farming communities, developing successful practices for pesticide reduction and soil & water conservation in a way that respects the inherent knowledge of the residents. Again, here the process of growing, preparing, and sharing food was imbued with incredible meaning and power. Over seemingly mundane and repetitive tasks, such as cleaning garlic or sowing seeds, we laughed, shared farming knowledge, and reveled in our common goals.

Finally, my time with Urban Sprouts, first as a garden & nutrition educator and now as an advisory board member, tested the limits of my beliefs in gardening and food as a means to build community. It was one thing to work with self-selecting 'hobby farmers' in California or rural communities that had been farming for centuries. But would skeptical city kids take to dirt, worms, and hard work?

Luckily they did, although the task of gaining their trust and interest was much harder than I could have ever imagined. The schools we worked in were overwhelming and sometimes dysfunctional. Although I certainly can't claim that our little gardens solved all of their problems, I did see that we provided a nurturing environment amidst the chaos, for which students and staff were grateful.

I hope to continue using food in various ways, in the future - I'm still trying to figure out how. But first -- a recipe!

These are definitely the lemon bars that made me a fan of lemon bars. A silky, super lemony sweet-n-tart curd, paired with a crispy buttery shortbread. (It's not for the faint of heart!) I won't reprint the recipe here, but you can find it on this site.