Bryan's doing great work this year at his placement site, Farm Fresh RI, and in reflecting on the themes of the program, and we love having him as a Jonathan Daniels House Resident. Bryan’s thoughts and questions in this piece are his own and he does not speak for the Diocese of Rhode Island or Farm FreshRI. Here are some of his reflections on his experiences thus far.
Thoughts on. . .
Coming from Iowa to Rhode Island
My name is Bryan from Iowa, it’s got a nice ring to it. NOT Idaho or Ohio, or Idaohioa for that matter either. We have oceans of corn, soybeans and pork ... not potatoes! There are actually more pigs than people in Iowa.
Time for some fun math to teach y’all how ridiculously compact your state is. Lil’ Rhode Island is 1,212 sq. miles with about 1 million people. Middle-of-nowhere Iowa is 56,272 sq. miles: about 50 times larger than Rhode Island, but Iowa contains only three times the number of people. So LIl’ Rhode Island contains one-third of the population of Iowa, in only 2% of the space. That’s some dense area of opportunity.
I graduated in May of 2015 from Luther College, a small liberal arts school situated in the picturesque bluffs of Northeast Iowa. I received a Bachelor of Arts in Biology--particularly focused on sustainable agriculture and methods of intensive food production. There is a widely accepted statistic that ⅓ of food produced in America’s food production system is wasted entirely, ending up in a landfill. My hope for the future is to work on tying off these waste streams, and turning them into affordable, value-added products focusing on food justice for families in low socio-economic brackets. This, however, is a big project, and food systems are absurdly complex. So I am starting small, and just trying to soak up as much real experience as possible. A college education teaches you a lot about a lot of things, but very little about valuable day to day things.
Diversity and Division:
I came to Rhode Island with hopes of experiencing greater diversity than what’s present in Iowa, and oh boy, did that hope become a reality. One-third of the people in 1/50th of the space. It has been a challenge understanding my own place in such a divided world, where racial inequality has been ingrained in society from the start, where the very city’s infrastructure elucidates the presence of discrimination.
Rhode Island is a place with a complicated and complex history, where I have been challenged, grappling with racial tensions: whether or not white people are safe in the ‘projects’, making friends with people of varying races and being the “whitest” guy they’ve ever met. I am slowly internalizing the fact that racism is a system of oppression needing to be changed, not a set of individual actions which can simply be avoided. Sure it’s great to not publicly insult people of different races anymore, but what does that do to help provide family structure for kids whose fathers are incarcerated? What does that do to make healthy food available to low income neighborhoods where a grocery store is miles away?
How does one go about changing a system that is the problem, especially when simply changing one’s actions is far from enough? and moreover, when my white privileged voice does not want to be heard? When my own privilege discounts my opinion because it equates with a lack of understanding? When my faith is rooted so deeply in science, a field often discounted in religious settings? Where is my place in this divided world? Just because I am white, does NOT mean I fit in—there are other parts of my story and identity which I feel put me on the “outside”--but am I allowed to be an “other,” too?
Working at Farm Fresh RI: Food and Justice and Community:
I am currently working at Farm Fresh Rhode Island, a local food distribution company that connects local farmers to local eaters. Here I have been blessed with a ton of diverse experiences: speaking Spanish at the Armory Park farmers market, and collaborating with Brown University students to improve their farmers market and helping others become more involved in the local food system. Once a week I have been assisting on a truck with food deliveries around Providence, seeing the back alleys of downtown, and meeting the chefs who are caring and able to buy fresh local food. I got to plan, choose the farm source, order and pack $1,000 of food into 70 veggie boxes with the Stop N’ Shop PeaPod program. I have visited orchards, some farms, and a local apiary (bee farm). I was invited to join a meeting with the leaders of the Newport Restaurant Group.
Lastly, I have been supporting, representing, and selling for Harvest Kitchen, my favorite program at Farm Fresh. Harvest Kitchen works with social justice and youth in the criminal justice system to teach them professional culinary skills. They work to source produce that local farmers have in excess, and turn it into a value-added products such as apple chips, stewed tomatoes, garlic dilly beans, peaches, and more.
I love the power food has to bring people together in conversation and commitment; youth at Harvest Kitchen, staff, and volunteers eat together as a community every day in the kitchen, working to overcoming prejudices and find common strings of understanding. Yes, people from different places with different colored skin, can be very different. But at God’s table, a table of acceptance, humility, love and grace, differences become mute and commonalities become clear in the presence of communal nourishment.
Local? Connect with Bryan:
I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Rhode Island so far, and I have so much more i am looking forward to learning. I just wish y’all would slow down and chill out, and let each other go ahead rather than push each other around!
Please come find me every Saturday this winter from 9-1 at the Winter Farmer’s Market at Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket –we’re the largest Winter Farmers Market in New England! Also, reach out to me via e-mail if you would like Farm Fresh to connect with your church in some way: bryan (at) farmfreshri (dot) org .