PANNA and the Future of Food and Farming

Written by Jessica Yescas
Fall 2017

Background on PANNA

PANNA stands for Pesticide Action Network of North America. PANNA is part of an international organization working towards a sustainable future without hazardous pesticides. I was first drawn to PANNA because of the work they do around farmworker’s health and pesticides and schools. Their mission statement “Reclaiming the future of food and farming” attracted me to the organization because they are working with the community to achieve this future, while also serving those involved in the food system, not just focusing on “fixing” the problems within the system.

Cultivating a Community

My introduction to PANNA began through their website. It is so full of scientific news and political “calls to action” that I developed a pre-conceived notion of a fast-paced, bustling workplace. I was expecting maybe labs in the office or lots of papers everywhere and people who were very academic and professional at all times. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that jeans were acceptable work wear. Contrary to popular belief, it is still possible to be casual yet professional and serious in the workplace. Despite the casualness of the workplace, everyone is so passionate about their work which allows them to be able to get into the nitty-gritty science when necessary. That being said, PANNA is full of just regular, down to earth people whose office culture drew me to working with the organization for the summer and semester. Unlike other workplaces I have been a part of, this one was not high stakes at all times, which is often stressful, but instead the PAN team is a supportive team where each staff member focusing on doing their part. With each person doing their specialty, either scientific research, fundraising, or managing the office, PAN is able to arrive at the best food policy and political solution with which to move forward so that they may advocate for the best decisions for the most vulnerable.

Planting My Roots

When I first read about the expectations of the food systems project I was excited to learn that I would be creating my own work plan. I was able to choose what part of the organization’s mission I would want to address and help cultivate. Past internships I have done have been similar to this, so I was looking forward to having the freedom to develop my own plan and learning. But although I have done these internships before, I always tend to forget how all the freedom that comes from creating your own project ends up being a bit lonely. Because this was my personal project, my supervisor, Emily, was usually the only staff member with which I interacted. All the other staff members were busy with their own work. I do not necessarily see this as a bad thing because now I understand how busy non-profits constantly are, and all the hard work the staff members do is essential to keeping the organization moving. Of course, the staff knew I was the intern in the office, but aside from brief staff meetings, I had little time to really get to know and talk to other staff members about myself or my project.

The Fruit of My Labor

The project I intended to work on during this internship was the creation of environmental health talks / videos for PANNA to share as informational presentations with affected communities. My goals with this project were to be able to put my public health background into action in addition to the food systems knowledge I had complied from previous classes. My service objective was that through this project I would be able to increase awareness of hazardous pesticide issues and be able to promote action around this within the community. I was able to take this project in the direction I wanted and did a talk on human rights and pesticide poisonings and environmental justice. I have been able to learn about human rights violations within the food systems that I was not originally aware of and would now like to take a more active role. However, my work can only do so much, so I will rely on community partnerships and advocacy to create and develop change.

Sowing the Seeds of Tomorrow

My experience here at PAN has brought to light a deeper understanding of the problem within the food systems, specifically surrounding the education of agricultural communities. Much of the work I have seen being done within the food systems has been so centered around research and sustainability. Though this might be because I am attending an academic research based institution, I believe it is still an issue. And although I understand the importance of research, I would like to see more work being conducted in partnership with the communities most affected by the food systems. I believe that this capstone course for the Food Systems minor is a great first step to creating deeper partnerships with grassroots organizations and communities. These groups are doing the most relevant work pertaining to their needs; we as students must invest our time and knowledge to cultivating solutions with them.

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