Written by: Carly Childs
Prior to working with Acta Non Verba, my understanding of the food system was shaped by classroom knowledge, reading, others’ experiences, and my own observations in the communities I consider my own. Capturing food systems through reading is a very difficult challenge and divider when it comes to experiencing real life situations. You can explain what it means to love, but until you have felt it yourself, you are stuck with this definition of what love means in someone else’s eyes. What shapes us as beings is unique to what we experience. Just like our image of love is my image of the food system. I was told on several accounts what the food system looks like, the definitions and facts I was taught were all I knew. And as true as they were, it all sunk in when I was able to put words to a picture during my time at Acta Non Verba. “Acta Non Verba: Youth Urban Farm Project (ANV) elevates life in the inner city by challenging oppressive dynamics and environments through urban farming.” Located in the City of Oakland’s Tassafaranga Park, the quarter acre grows more than plants, and I was fortunate to witness the selflessness that sprouts from ANV and opens up a world of fresh grown food and interactive gardening for the children in the inner city. Children shape the food system because they are the future generation, and that is why we must emphasize what is available for them to fuel their bodies.
So, how does this whole gardening thing work? The process involves a gardener and seeds. In a garden, the seed cannot grow unless the gardener plants it. This goes both ways. A gardener would not have a garden if it weren’t for the seeds ability to grow.
When it comes to my time at ANV, I found myself expecting to give to the children and help enrich their lives, yet I found my own joy in the way I grew and the opportunity to experience food systems in the real world.
Change in Me
Much like a seed, my time at Acta Non Verba has pushed me out of my comfort zone, exposed me to a new environment, and most importantly allowed me to grow alongside a very special group of children. I began my time at ANV, specifically in the afterschool program, in hopes of helping the children. By providing aid on schoolwork and teaching the children about nutrition, I thought I would be bringing a new perspective to them and sharing something they didn’t have before. Little did I know that the biggest change in my over 90 hours at Acta Non Verba was what changed inside of me. During the early weeks of my internship, I found myself frustrated. I was discouraged because the children did not listen or I felt as though I was not respected. I’m guessing this feeling is normal when you submerge yourself into a new environment or culture. As the days went by I found myself adjusting to the setting. The experience was not what I expected. It’s funny how expectations differ greatly from reality. In the case of the time I spent with this group of children, the reality was much more special than I anticipated.
Change in the Children
The change in the children comes from their exposure to the farm and to cooking. They also changed in how they approached me. There was a development of respect as well as attachment. Ultimately, the children have the power. Whether it’s nutrition or education, they are their own strong agent. They have the power and this was shown through the impact they made on my life. They exposed me to a world of teaching and the way we both needed each other. The food system is more than big corporations. It is children learning about the little details, asking questions, and sharing the knowledge they learn.
On Thursdays, we did a cooking class with the children. One of the days, I was in charge. I decided that it would be fun to make granola bars. All of the children were very eager to help in whatever way possible. They enjoyed the food and saw how easy it was to prepare. Hands on activities had the greatest impact because then the students could feel, taste and visualize the experience. Another project I did involved discussing the Soda Tax and chose to bring in baggies filled with the amount of sugar found in various sugar sweetened beverages. The children were amazed to find out that the bottled lemonade had more sugar than Coke or an energy drink. Actually seeing and feeling the sugar packets made it very real for the children.
Change in the Food System
ANV aims to change the food system through their unique offerings involving urban farming in East Oakland. Beating the odds by opening up new changes to learning and promoting healthy eating habits. The way ANV opened the door to community participation and urban farming was very impressive. Some of the offerings that stood out include community farm day, the food pantry, resident’s participation in farm, and the children’s farm participation along with cooking classes.
The cities that are suffering most from food insecurity are often low-income areas. Thanks to Acta Non Verba, the Tassafaranga Village is exposed to healthy food practices that are often forgotten in the fast food culture of food systems today. In order to provide better food, there needs to be more awareness first. If we educate community members about how certain foods can damage our bodies, hopefully less junk food will be purchased. It is no cakewalk for the founder of Acta Non Verba. Running a non-profit requires a very determined person who will not back down. The mission is what fuels the fire and that is what must not be overlooked.
As a major in Public Health, there have been numerous times I found myself intrigued by the idea of working in another country. This still seems appealing to me, however, I can help out right here and now. Why should I work in a foreign country simply to return to my own home and community that has the same problems that need to be solved? I have grown to see that it is not just worldwide where people suffer from being food insecure or oppressed, but it is in my own backyard that many need assistance. It is not only those who are extremely poor or malnourished, it is everyone in between as well. We need to find ways to keep the people in our own communities happy and healthy.