A Reflection on Growing Power

This post has been contributed by Alexis Bressler, a former VISTA worker for PLENTY! and a graduate of the Virginia Tech Civic Agriculture and Food Systems Minor.

Prior to going to Growing Power I purposefully did not do much research into their organization. I knew that they were involved with urban farming but not much more. I was in for a pleasant surprise. It turns out that Growing Power is involved with a multitude of community food projects, not unlike our very own Plenty, but on a much larger and more urbanized scale. Hearing Will Allen’s story showed me first hand that small grassroots efforts to revolutionize the food system can be successful and GROW. Anymore, Growing Power is not just based in Milwaukee, it has expanded its efforts to neighboring cities like Chicago and to other areas of the country through its Regional Outreach Training Centers (ROTC). It is getting bigger and affecting more change and for all walks of life. This is a point that I would particularly like to emphasize, that being that Growing Power makes a conscious effort to incorporate a diverse group of people. In my experience in working with food systems I have almost always only worked with white, middle aged females. So, it was very refreshing to see such a wide variety of demographics at the conference. This gave me hope that our food system is indeed in the process of changing for the better because it is a movement that is reaching all people, not just a specific cohort, which is what I think is necessary for a food revolution to actually occur. Most importantly it is impacting the youth, the generation that will have to confront food system issues in their lifetime.
It was very motivating and inspiring to hear Will Allen and his colleagues praise and highlight the youth at the conference and to hear stories from the youth panel. I was in awe over how eloquent they all were, I can only dream about being as confident of a public speaker as those panelists. This panel also bestowed a few colorful ideas for how to engage youth in our community, the most notable of which was the “Eco-Top Chef” Challenge. I’m hoping this is something we can do in the spring in the local school system.
In terms of other inspirational ideas, a few of the workshops provided valuable tools and information that exceeded my expectations. One great example of this was the workshop on Nonviolent Communication based on a book by Marshall Rosenberg. I found this workshop very useful in that it helped me relive and analyze my firsts few months of VISTA. It showed me a new form of communication that I think could be very useful in my workplace. Non-violent communication is based on the concept that all humans desire compassion and can be compassionate. So this technique for communication essentially uses compassion to solve conflict through expressing emotions and receiving emphatically. There are several steps in the process of non-violent communication, the first of which is to observe what the conflict is in a way that separates observations from evaluations. For instance, “I think Penny is tired today because she keeps on forgetting to do things she needs to do at work.”
The next step is to state how you feel during the observation. This was a very interesting part of the workshop because we all collectively realized how often we use the word “feel” in an inappropriate way. For instance saying, “I feel that you should know better” does not actually convey how you feel but instead conveys an assumption about someone else. A more accurate example of a feeling properly stated would be, “ I feel content because I just ate a bowl of my favorite soup and am no longer hungry.”
The third and fourth steps are to communicate your need and request that the person(s) you are engaged with meet that need. I took this as a way to give the other person(s) an out in the conflict situation. By identifying your need, you allow people to accept, decline, or offer a compromise on a specific point. An example of effectively expressing a need is “I feel angry when you say that because I am wanting respect and I hear your words as an insult.” Through this process you also need to understand that the other person(s) has needs too and might not be able to meet your needs. If you can’t meet each others needs then you have a negotiation process.
Over all, this workshop helped me realize that I should always be working towards communicating more effectively, especially in a conflict situation. After all, the more clear you can be about your position, the more likely you are to be understood and then move towards a resolution.
Another workshop that I think is worth mentioning in this reflection was the one presented by Elizabeth Henderson from Peacework farm in New York State. This workshop was great because it had a CSA model that served low-income populations using several different funding streams and models. The one I was most interested in was how low-income participants could use their WIC/SNAP benefits to pay for a CSA share on the schedule that correlates with the distribution of WIC/SNAP benefits through an EBT machine (every two-weeks or monthly I think?). This of course means that the farm needed an EBT machine, but they were able to apply for a free one funded by JP Morgan Corporation. They also had scholarships that they were able to provide by using a sliding scale and from private community donations. Elizabeth provided a lot of information on how to implement a system like this so I am excited to research it further and see if it would be a model that could be useful for the Plenty farm.
More than anything Growing Power helped me see how small agriculture can be a catalyst for revolutionizing our food system. When I say small agriculture I mean not just a shift to smaller farms, but a shift towards considering food on a smaller more personal scale. I think once individuals can be convinced to take the time to consider where their food comes from and how what they eat can affect both their health and the health of the world around them then we will see change. Growing Power helped to motivate me to continue to be a part of this process and thankfully I will have more than enough support to do so through Plenty and VISTA.