by Lauren Dickerson

My name is Lauren Dickerson, and I am a sophomore at William and Mary who went on the Lynchburg Grows spring break Branch Out trip. I hadn’t really heard of Branch Out in any context that was related to me at all until my sophomore year when a few of my friends mentioned that they were involved in it. I didn’t really know what it was, so I started asking questions. I really liked the answers I got.

People talked about how they were learning about social justice issues in a meaningful way that made them ask more questions and be more curious about other things. These were all people who I thought were already pretty knowledge about social justice. To hear them talk about how much they were learning was intriguing.

So, when the time came, I went ahead and filled out the application for a spring break trip. It was honestly the best choice I could have possibly made for my spring break. A lot of my friends were headed to beaches in the Outer Banks, in Florida, etc. I’m really glad I didn’t choose to do any of those things though.

In our pre-trip meetings there was a lot of learning and discussion about food insecurity and food deserts, neither of which I knew anything about. Food is a funny thing. It seems like such a basic, small, easily accomplished thing, just eating, but really there are so many different systems of inequality that get food from its starting form—as an egg or a seed—to people’s mouths.

Access to reasonably priced, fresh, whole food—that’s something that people who don’t have to think about it take for granted. One of the readings with did (of “fundatory” homework), used this really great phrase—the privilege of ignorance. Never having to worry about access to fresh vegetables or whole, cheap foods, that’s so important and relevant to so many other aspects of people’s lives.

Food issues are intersectional. What people eat is decided by their socio-economic status. Are they a single mother? White or non-white? Under the poverty line or not? What people eat affects their ability to work and grow properly. Food makes a huge difference in how children perform in school. The social dynamics around a kitchen table are hugely influential in children’s understanding of social structures. How they eat when they are younger makes a huge difference in their health care later on. Obesity is caused, in part, by a lack of access to healthy foods. Obesity is one of the number one diseases in the US today—it leads to heart attacks, heart disease, high blood pressure, Type II diabetes, all of these diseases that are becoming more and more common in the US.

In addition to the discussion and reflection in our meetings, we also watched a few TED talks, as well as some spoken word. These were to help us to understand the mindset of the work that we would be doing. One of the spoken word pieces that we listened to talked about the idea behind growing your own food. There’s something incredibly tangible and reassuring about being able to do that for yourself. Another point that comes along with that is that in learning to grow your own food, you become familiar with fresh vegetables—how they smell and look and that exposure makes people more comfortable with cooking and using fresh vegetables in meals. If you are never exposed to what kale is, you are going to have a difficult time knowing how to cook it or use it in meals. That’s unfortunate and problematic because kale is a super food. It’s packed with vitamins and protein and fiber. Basically just imagine a green leafy vegetable wrapped up in a super suit.

One of the main points of many of the TED talks and our discussions was that by personalizing food production, you learn a lot about what it is that you are eating. On a personal level, there was so much satisfaction in seeing the progress that we made as a team. On our trip, we were helping open up new garden beds for Lynchburg Grows to grow watermelon and squash. There was something really satisfying about making huge holes in the mound of dirt that we were pulling from, knowing that each shovelful of dirt that we moved would be used to grow food. There’s a certain ownership in working with your hands and making visible progress that you don’t get from writing an essay or taking a midterm.

Aside from what I learned about social justice issues and service, going on the Lynchburg Grows trip was incredibly restorative for me. Lynchburg was in the mountains, and it was sunny every day we were there. You could smell the dirt on every inch of the property, and I was doing productive work that had meaning. It’s really easy to get caught up in the fishbowl that is William and Mary. There’s always another essay to write, midterm to study for, organizational meeting to go to. All of that is important, make no mistake, but for me sometimes it fails to feel productive or meaningful. I find myself going through the motions and wondering what the real purpose of doing all these things is. Going on the Lynchburg Grows trip was a reminder of ways that I can feel productive—in doing work with my hands. That could take the form of cooking or gardening, working on remodeling a house, it doesn’t really matter all that much. Finding ways to feel productive in my everyday life is one of my goals for reorientation. This summer, I am going to start a garden in my parents’ backyard and grow some vegetables out there (assuming that the rabbits and deer don’t eat all of them). I will also take over making dinner the majority of the time again, which I’m really excited about (definitely planning on making this mint, watermelon, spinach and feta salad that I have). I also want to find ways to give back with what I grow and make, though. I’m thinking that I want to donate some of the fresh produce to a food shelter in the area to do what I can to help people get fresh produce.