The summer entering my sophomore year of high school was a bittersweet one. I was transferring from my public high school to the Catholic one in the area. I was mad, but wanted to cherish the summer with my neighborhood friends. In order to graduate from St. Thomas, I had to complete 60 hours of community service, and I decided to get it out of the way that summer.
There was a farm down the street from my house which I started volunteering at three days a week. It was a community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm — this means that through funding and volunteer work from the community, we were able to enjoy fresh veggies all growing season. I thought, and still think, that this is a spectacular concept. CSAs teach us the importance of healthy food and the work which takes place in order to grow it.
At first, my days on the farm were long and hot. I learned to keep a massive jug of water by my side at all times, as well as how to keep the bugs away organically. That was the thing about this farm — everything was done in an organic fashion, which means no pesticides and a lot of monotonous labor. Kate, the farmer in charge of the project, grew to rely on me, as I was the most permanent volunteer Willow Pond (my CSA) had ever seen. I led small groups into the patches and demonstrated how to weed and water appropriately. I learned how to set up an organic irrigation system and how to compost. I also learned to be less squeamish around the gigantic bugs that frequently hovered over our plants. Part of my less-than-glamorous job was to squish them! I spent so much time around the food, I could tell from the smell of the soil what was planted underneath.
I was excited to go to work in the mornings. My job made me feel knowledgeable and experienced at a young age. It gave me a true sense of importance. I brought home fresh vegetables, and my mom and I would try amazing new recipes from the local farmers who supplied our CSA stand with things like meat, honey and eggs.
My favorite moments on the farm were spent weeding with another women, a local chef in our town. She would fill me in on her new cooking adventures and experiments, and my mouth would be watering by the time we finished with each patch. She brought me goodies from her kitchen, from fresh raspberry crumble bars to flaky croissants made with local goat cheese. The way she handled her creations told me she had such pride in her work. I knew I could feel this way about something I cooked as well. She told me about the job opportunities she had, like being a personal chef and menu planning for big restaurants, and immediately I was hooked. I’m not sure what enchanted me so much about this woman, but between her gentle mannerisms and the way she spoke about sautéing and seasoning, I wanted every part of what she did for a living. Starting with these moments, I knew I wanted to work with or around food. My community service hours changed my life.
Today, I am an English major looking into the world of food writing, but more importantly looking toward my applications in the spring of 2015 for culinary school. My service work on the farm pushed me to realize my passion for food as well as something that I think we regularly forget: There is actually beauty in using something raw and natural to fuel our bodies and keep us healthy and on the move. Food is not only the root of your life; it can change your life. It certainly changed mine.