Weaving a Common Thread from Three Internships

Written by Annie Lu
Fall 2017

Every​ ​time​ ​I​ ​reflect​ ​on​ ​my​ ​experience​ ​delving​ ​into​ ​the​ ​Food​ ​Systems​ ​Minor​ ​engagement​ ​project this​ ​past​ ​summer,​ ​I​ ​remember​ ​how​ ​deeply​ ​our​ ​food​ ​systems​ ​impact​ ​our​ ​communities,​ ​and​ ​I​ ​feel my​ ​academic​ ​work​ ​reinvigorated​ ​with​ ​renewed​ ​purpose.​ ​During​ ​that​ ​summer,​ ​I​ ​had​ ​the​ ​distinct privilege​ ​of​ ​expanding​ ​my​ ​understanding​ ​of​ ​food​ ​systems​ ​from​ ​a​ ​theoretical​ ​classroom​ ​concept to​ ​a​ ​lived​ ​experience​ ​through​ ​the​ ​culmination​ ​of​ ​not​ ​one​ ​but​ ​three​ ​internships,​ ​each​ ​intertwining with​ ​the​ ​others​ ​to​ ​give​ ​me​ ​a​ ​taste​ ​of​ ​how​ ​policy,​ ​business​ ​strategy,​ ​and​ ​on-the-ground​ ​advocacy come​ ​together​ ​to​ ​shape​ ​our​ ​food​ ​production,​ ​distribution,​ ​and​ ​access.

While​ ​I​ ​hadn’t​ ​originally​ ​intended​ ​to​ ​commit​ ​to​ ​three​ ​positions​ ​in​ ​one​ ​summer—balancing​ ​the time​ ​commitments​ ​meant​ ​working​ ​13​ ​out​ ​of​ ​every​ ​14​ ​days—I​ ​was​ ​ultimately​ ​able​ ​to​ ​find​ ​a common​ ​thread​ ​that​ ​connected​ ​these​ ​different​ ​components​ ​of​ ​food​ ​systems​ ​work,​ ​which​ ​made the​ ​whole​ ​experience​ ​remarkably​ ​rewarding.​ ​Though​ ​my​ ​internship​ ​with​ ​Fresh​ ​Approach​ ​served as​ ​my​ ​official​ ​Community​ ​Engagement​ ​Project,​ ​my​ ​involvement​ ​with​ ​each​ ​of​ ​the​ ​three organizations​ ​gave​ ​me​ ​its​ ​own​ ​special​ ​perspective.

My​ ​first​ ​position​ ​was​ ​as​ ​the​ ​Communications​ ​Student​ ​Assistant​ ​with​ ​the​ ​Berkeley​ ​Food​ ​Institute (BFI)​ ​on-campus.​ ​In​ ​this​ ​role,​ ​my​ ​responsibilities​ ​were​ ​to​ ​produce​ ​the​ ​Student​ ​Opportunities​ ​and BFI​ ​News​ ​newsletters,​ ​design​ ​informational​ ​materials,​ ​and​ ​generally​ ​assist​ ​with​ ​communicating the​ ​work​ ​of​ ​students,​ ​researchers,​ ​and​ ​collaborators​ ​to​ ​both​ ​the​ ​broader​ ​community​ ​and​ ​to policymakers.​ ​This​ ​position​ ​allowed​ ​me​ ​to​ ​consistently​ ​interact​ ​with​ ​the​ ​foremost​ ​academic​ ​and policy​ ​research​ ​being​ ​produced​ ​from​ ​UC​ ​Berkeley.​ ​In​ ​particular,​ ​I​ ​enjoyed​ ​learning​ ​about​ ​the projects​ ​that​ ​evaluated​ ​the​ ​effectiveness​ ​of​ ​CalFresh,​ ​California’s​ ​Supplemental​ ​Nutrition Assistance​ ​Program​ ​(SNAP),​ ​on​ ​equitably​ ​reaching​ ​target​ ​communities,​ ​as​ ​this​ ​knowledge directly​ ​applied​ ​to​ ​Fresh​ ​Approach’s​ ​activities.

The​ ​second​ ​position​ ​was​ ​as​ ​a​ ​Strategic​ ​Marketing​ ​Intern​ ​for​ ​Capay​ ​Mills,​ ​a​ ​small​ ​farmer-owned and​ ​operated​ ​business​ ​from​ ​Capay​ ​Valley​ ​that​ ​grows​ ​and​ ​mills​ ​heirloom​ ​Californian​ ​grains​ ​into fresh​ ​flour.​ ​Through​ ​assisting​ ​with​ ​sales​ ​on​ ​weekends​ ​at​ ​the​ ​Oakland​ ​Temescal​ ​Farmer’s Market,​ ​I​ ​realized​ ​the​ ​difficulties​ ​with​ ​and​ ​necessity​ ​of​ ​educating​ ​the​ ​public​ ​on​ ​how​ ​their​ ​food​ ​is produced.​ ​Generic​ ​commercial​ ​flour​ ​that​ ​costs​ ​about​ ​$0.70​ ​per​ ​pound,​ ​for​ ​example,​ ​is​ ​only​ ​so cheap​ ​because​ ​it​ ​externalizes​ ​the​ ​remained​ ​production​ ​costs,​ ​negatively​ ​impacting​ ​both​ ​human health​ ​and​ ​the​ ​environment.​ ​Therefore,​ ​to​ ​make​ ​better​ ​choices,​ ​we​ ​need​ ​to​ ​empower​ ​ourselves with​ ​the​ ​knowledge​ ​of​ ​what​ ​we’re​ ​really​ ​putting​ ​into​ ​our​ ​bodies​ ​while​ ​supporting​ ​local, small-scale​ ​farmers​ ​who​ ​aim​ ​to​ ​make​ ​tangible​ ​changes​ ​to​ ​the​ ​status​ ​quo.

Lastly,​ ​I​ ​worked​ ​with​ ​Fresh​ ​Approach​ ​(FA),​ ​a​ ​nonprofit​ ​organization​ ​that​ ​aims​ ​to​ ​improve​ ​access to​ ​healthy,​ ​fresh,​ ​and​ ​local​ ​produce​ ​through​ ​a​ ​network​ ​of​ ​education​ ​and​ ​outreach​ ​operations within​ ​low-income​ ​and​ ​underprivileged​ ​communities​ ​throughout​ ​the​ ​Bay​ ​Area.​ ​As​ ​FA’s​ ​East​ ​Bay Food​ ​Equity​ ​&​ ​Outreach​ ​Intern,​ ​I​ ​had​ ​the​ ​opportunity​ ​to​ ​carry​ ​out​ ​a​ ​number​ ​of​ ​on-the-ground activities,​ ​including​ ​teaching​ ​free​ ​nutrition​ ​education​ ​classes,​ ​tabling​ ​at​ ​community​ ​health​ ​fairs​ ​to provide​ ​free​ ​resources​ ​like​ ​cookbooks​ ​and​ ​dietary​ ​guideline​ ​brochures,​ ​and​ ​getting​ ​women​ ​and families​ ​signed​ ​up​ ​to​ ​use​ ​free​ ​WIC​ ​(Women,​ ​Infants,​ ​and​ ​Children​ ​Food​ ​and​ ​Nutrition​ ​Service) checks​ ​at​ ​farmers’​ ​markets.​ ​I​ ​even​ ​got​ ​to​ ​represent​ ​FA​ ​and​ ​table​ ​for​ ​donations​ ​at​ ​Jack Johnson’s​ ​Berkeley​ ​leg​ ​of​ ​his​ ​Summer​ ​2017​ ​tour!

I​ ​loved​ ​how​ ​the​ ​FA​ ​tasks​ ​and​ ​events​ ​varied​ ​each​ ​week,​ ​providing​ ​a​ ​sampling​ ​of​ ​the multitudinous​ ​ways​ ​in​ ​which​ ​community-oriented​ ​support​ ​can​ ​uplift​ ​people.​ ​WIC,​ ​for​ ​example, provides​ ​eligible​ ​families​ ​with​ ​a​ ​$20​ ​check​ ​each​ ​summer​ ​to​ ​spend​ ​on​ ​fruits​ ​and​ ​vegetables​ ​at farmers’​ ​markets​ ​throughout​ ​California.​ ​FA​ ​steps​ ​in​ ​to​ ​assist​ ​in​ ​communicating​ ​these​ ​benefits​ ​to actually​ ​get​ ​families​ ​signed​ ​up.​ ​To​ ​accomplish​ ​this,​ ​FA​ ​hired​ ​bilingual​ ​interns​ ​like​ ​myself​ ​to translate​ ​how​ ​to​ ​use​ ​WIC​ ​in​ ​Spanish,​ ​Mandarin,​ ​and​ ​Vietnamese​ ​to​ ​participants.​ ​This​ ​kind​ ​of thoughtfulness​ ​struck​ ​me​ ​as​ ​a​ ​seemingly​ ​minute​ ​detail​ ​that​ ​is​ ​actually​ ​a​ ​very​ ​important​ ​step​ ​in addressing​ ​the​ ​structural​ ​barriers​ ​to​ ​good​ ​food​ ​access.

Of​ ​all​ ​of​ ​the​ ​different​ ​types​ ​of​ ​tasks,​ ​one​ ​of​ ​my​ ​favourite​ ​activities​ ​with​ ​FA​ ​was​ ​working​ ​with​ ​the Freshest​ ​Cargo​ ​truck.​ ​FA​ ​operates​ ​two​ ​food​ ​trucks​ ​that​ ​supply​ ​organically​ ​grown​ ​produce bought​ ​at​ ​wholesale​ ​prices​ ​from​ ​farmers​ ​and​ ​drives​ ​to​ ​neighbourhoods​ ​that​ ​do​ ​not​ ​historically have​ ​access​ ​to​ ​farmers’​ ​markets.​ ​The​ ​truck​ ​offers​ ​all​ ​produce​ ​at​ ​an​ ​additional​ ​50%​ ​off​ ​for​ ​those with​ ​CalFresh.​ ​Partnerships​ ​with​ ​community​ ​organisations​ ​at​ ​particular​ ​sites​ ​further​ ​breakdown economic​ ​barriers:​ ​at​ ​the​ ​Civic​ ​Centre​ ​stop​ ​on​ ​the​ ​truck’s​ ​Richmond​ ​route,​ ​students​ ​of​ ​the​ ​free Literacy​ ​for​ ​Every​ ​Adult​ ​Program​ ​(LEAP)​ ​courses​ ​earned​ ​“LEAP​ ​dollars”​ ​which​ ​were​ ​printed​ ​bills resembling​ ​Monopoly​ ​money​ ​that​ ​could​ ​be​ ​spent​ ​as​ ​dollars​ ​on​ ​produce​ ​at​ ​the​ ​Freshest​ ​Cargo truck.​ ​The​ ​crowd​ ​at​ ​this​ ​location​ ​was​ ​always​ ​lively​ ​and​ ​ready​ ​to​ ​take​ ​advantage​ ​of​ ​our​ ​1-hour stop​ ​for​ ​their​ ​weekly​ ​grocery​ ​shopping.​ ​Popular​ ​items​ ​during​ ​the​ ​summer​ ​were​ ​baskets​ ​of​ ​fresh berries,​ ​nectarines,​ ​kale,​ ​and​ ​heirloom​ ​tomatoes.​ ​Folks​ ​also​ ​bought​ ​up​ ​the​ ​occasional​ ​bunch​ ​of lavendar,​ ​bouquet​ ​of​ ​flowers,​ ​or​ ​bag​ ​of​ ​brown​ ​rice​ ​as​ ​they​ ​told​ ​us​ ​what​ ​meals​ ​they​ ​were​ ​getting ready​ ​to​ ​prepare​ ​for​ ​loved​ ​ones.

For​ ​me,​ ​there​ ​was​ ​no​ ​better​ ​feeling​ ​than​ ​seeing​ ​someone’s​ ​expressions​ ​light​ ​up​ ​as​ ​they sampled​ ​a​ ​sweet​ ​cherry​ ​or​ ​apricot​ ​bursting​ ​with​ ​peak​ ​summer​ ​ripeness.​ ​This​ ​job​ ​reminded​ ​me​ ​of the​ ​power​ ​in​ ​good​ ​food​ ​to​ ​to​ ​bring​ ​us​ ​together.​ ​People​ ​frequently​ ​commented​ ​on​ ​how​ ​the produce​ ​brought​ ​them​ ​back​ ​to​ ​their​ ​childhood​ ​days​ ​as​ ​they​ ​picked​ ​out​ ​fruits​ ​to​ ​bring​ ​to​ ​family​ ​or friends.​ ​Good​ ​food​ ​is​ ​a​ ​universal​ ​language,​ ​and​ ​I​ ​feel​ ​so​ ​grounded​ ​when​ ​I​ ​get​ ​to​ ​see​ ​its​ ​power and​ ​effects​ ​taking​ ​shape.

The​ ​opportunity​ ​to​ ​be​ ​welcomed​ ​into​ ​different​ ​communities​ ​to​ ​connect​ ​folks​ ​through​ ​delicious and​ ​healthy​ ​fruits​ ​and​ ​vegetables​ ​was​ ​truly​ ​transformative.​ ​It​ ​breathed​ ​meaning​ ​into​ ​my​ ​studies within​ ​the​ ​classroom,​ ​and​ ​reminded​ ​me​ ​of​ ​why​ ​it​ ​is​ ​intrinsically​ ​meaningful​ ​and​ ​absolutely necessary​ ​to​ ​hone​ ​food​ ​systems​ ​reform​ ​on​ ​ensuring​ ​access​ ​to​ ​affordable,​ ​local,​ ​seasonal produce.​ ​I’m​ ​deeply​ ​grateful​ ​to​ ​the​ ​staff​ ​at​ ​FA​ ​for​ ​their​ ​inspiring​ ​passion​ ​and​ ​relentless​ ​efforts which​ ​helped​ ​me​ ​to​ ​understand​ ​the​ ​critical​ ​role​ ​of​ ​disseminating​ ​access​ ​to​ ​good​ ​food​ ​and resources​ ​at​ ​the​ ​ground​ ​level.​ ​Without​ ​this​ ​component​ ​of​ ​getting​ ​communities​ ​informed​ ​and connected​ ​to​ ​their​ ​best​ ​options​ ​for​ ​personal​ ​health​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​a​ ​better​ ​food​ ​system​ ​that​ ​uplifts one​ ​another,​ ​the​ ​work​ ​of​ ​academics​ ​and​ ​small-scale​ ​farmers​ ​would​ ​not​ ​be​ ​able​ ​to​ ​generate​ ​a fully​ ​equitable​ ​system​ ​that​ ​benefits​ ​all.

I​ ​know​ ​that​ ​the​ ​impacts​ ​of​ ​these​ ​experiences​ ​will​ ​continue​ ​to​ ​shape​ ​the​ ​ways​ ​that​ ​I​ ​study​ ​and engage​ ​with​ ​our​ ​food​ ​systems.​ ​I’m​ ​continuing​ ​to​ ​volunteer​ ​with​ ​FA​ ​and​ ​work​ ​with​ ​BFI​ ​throughout the​ ​school​ ​year,​ ​and​ ​I​ ​look​ ​forward​ ​to​ ​continuing​ ​on​ ​this​ ​endlessly​ ​fascinating​ ​deep-dive​ ​into​ ​one of​ ​my​ ​greatest​ ​passions​ ​in​ ​life,​ ​having​ ​gained​ ​confidence​ ​from​ ​each​ ​of​ ​my​ ​summer​ ​positions that​ ​meaningful​ ​reforms​ ​are​ ​well​ ​underway.

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