Written by Stephanie Wang
Over the course of three years at the Berkeley Student Collective, from storefront all the way to director, I’ve witness its growth and change in structure, operation, and membership. Initially, I wanted to investigate questions like what do customers look for in store, how does our product selection reflect that, and is there a discrepancy between who we think we’re serving and who we are actually serving? However, I quickly realized that there is no usable data that I could build my research on. Thus, my project changed from investigating the interaction between our customers and products to identifying who are the people who frequent BSFC.
My task seemed simple, conduct a survey, but nothing about it was easy. I had no background in demographic studies and never wrote a survey in my life. The internet could not give me directions and reading research papers turned out be a blind search. I was completely out of my comfort zone. For a while, I rode a rollercoaster of ups and downs in the fog, uncertain about how big the next loop would be. Every time I clarified the methods and felt certain about the next steps, a dozen more questions would pop out. So I took control, after all, no one knew my project better than I would. It was pleasantly liberating to make executive decisions and stop worrying what other people wanted. I kept a document of questions that I steadily answered and added to every week. Eventually, I felt assertive over the direction of my work. I’m also thankful for the suggestions and encouragements varied advisors offered me when I reached out to them. Persistence is key in completing an independent project, but so is the fine balance between confidence and willingness to accept advice.
I thought of interview members at the same time as surveying to gather their experiences and reason for volunteering at the food collective. However, conducting interviews would require me to first analyze the results of the survey, then propose and investigate a new question, which was outside of the range of my proposed project. In addition, I was constrained by time so I decided not to interview members. Included is a Powerpoint that summarizes the results of the survey.
The Food Systems minor has been thoroughly thought-provoking and critically challenging, exactly what I needed in my education that was yearning for a classroom conversation about real life problems plaguing people right now. I am truly glad to have found a passionate community excited to work towards change together. In addition, working with nonprofit organizations dedicated towards combating food security over the years opened my eyes to the everyday struggles of vulnerable communities, the underserved, and my peers. It has taught me invaluable lessons in leadership, problem solving, and confronting challenges that will remain with me as I continue to navigate the surprises and hardships of adulthood.
I began the capstone course with the intention of yielding something interesting for my community partner, but I didn’t consider how my views would change as I navigate the challenges of an independent project. Through identifying the trend of people who frequented the food collective as customers or members, I inadvertently learned about myself in the process. As I finish the minor requirements and reflect on the last few years, it became clear that food system is not a sector that I will continue to work in the future. I want structure and the ability to solve a problem through facts retained. I like clear job responsibilities and certainty in where the organization is headed towards in the future. I want to work at an individual level and see immediate improvements. I find that food systems tend to solve global issues that may seem daunting at times. These desires in my career conflict with the fluid nature of nonprofit organizations where interns frequently play multiple roles due to limited resources. At the same time, I see how the challenging, unending possibility, and multitasking nature of nonprofit work can be appealing to some folks. Although my wonderful adventures in food systems is ending, I look forward to applying the skills I learned in an alternative sector.
Lastly, I want to honor the people who relentlessly sought to change the systematic and problematic way food is currently distributed for their children, for the minority majority, for our environment, despite crushing oppositions. I hope to carry the same persistence and determination in whatever cause I chose to dedicate my life towards in the future. And I hope hearing their stories through your coursework or community partner will fill you with feelings, whether hope, excitement, or anger, and that these feelings propel you to change the world for the better.