My Summer Experience with Organic Farming for a Local Non-Profit

    By Allie Greth, member of our Inaugural Youth Advisory Council

Hi everyone! My name is Allie and I’m originally from Des Moines, Iowa, currently living in Iowa City to attend the University of Iowa. I’m a third-year student studying Geography with minors in Earth Science and Environmental Policy. At this time, I don’t have any one specific job in mind that I’m working towards, but I’m extremely passionate about social and environmental justice, as well as sustainable agriculture, which is why I wanted to share my experience. This summer I decided to take a position with a local non-profit called Feed Iowa First that is dedicated to fighting food insecurity by providing free and fresh produce to the public in addition to hosting an equitable land access program to help experienced farmers overcome land access barriers. Through organic farming, this organization has made numerous connections across the community to make fresh and nutritious food accessible to all in a sustainable manner.

Growing up in Iowa, it may come as a shock that I had never farmed and barely even gardened before in my life, however I think this is more consistent with the experience of the majority of the country. Agriculture has always been present in my life and within the culture and history of my home, but never something I participated in personally. As a natural science student who has spent their fair share of time outdoors, I went into this job with the assumption that I would still be fairly knowledgeable in this field, but I was graced by so many more experiences that I never could have expected. The sheer power of the rewarding and humbling feeling this job gives a person is so gratifying that every minute spent doing it feels like one well spent. Not only farming, but creating and growing food that can nourish and sustain is a very close and tender moment with the earth around you. A person can think they know where their food comes from, but speaking from experience, you won’t truly know until you do it for yourself. Putting your own two hands into the soil, your own blood, sweat, and tears, gives you a new appreciation for those who grow our food and the powerful environment around us. The feeling is difficult to describe, but overcoming these new challenges, mental and physical, is enlightening and empowering in a way everyone should experience.

Working at this job, up-close and personal with a non-profit in my area, has also given me a new care and appreciation for the state I live in. Living in the Midwest can easily be frustrating for those concerned about the environment and the impacts of agriculture on our health, land, and waterways for a variety of reasons. However, it can also be frustrating in the sense that it is easy for others to place undue emphasis on the negative aspects of agricultural areas and ignore food systems that aren’t directly in front of them. There is a delicate balance between moving towards a more sustainable future and recognizing the dependence we have on this broken system and the incredible farmers holding it all together. Not to mention the internal division created over concerns of a just transition for the people of your home state and the industry their livelihoods depend on. However, every place has its flaws through their own doing or not and because of this it is especially important to learn about the afflictions specific to your local area that require change, including local food systems and possible injustices within them, as there will likely be some less than pleasant surprises. Getting more directly involved in this positive change has made my care and appreciation for the people of Iowa run much deeper than I thought it ever would. I am now even more motivated and passionate about creating a positive impact on the place I grew up in and strive for more reasons to be proud to call Iowa home. Getting involved in the community has sparked a new interest for me in local history and culture in unique ways that can be specifically applied for the betterment of the future.

Lastly, one of the most important things this job has given me is a newfound confidence that sustainable agriculture is possible, even large-scale, and I found this by watching some of the most inspiring and powerful women I know. Never in my life did I think I would see one woman move a crate of over 600 pounds of potatoes all by herself, but life is full of surprises. Every day I watch these women do the impossible as they teach me how to do the same, unlearning the system we think we know and having the confidence to break free from it to help those the system leaves behind. I’ve seen the stats, and I’ve heard the economics of agriculture in America, but there is no more cold, hard proof that sustainable agriculture in America is possible than four women and a few volunteer groups bringing together thousands of pounds of nutritious food to their community in-need, grown from seed to table by hand with love without any harmful chemicals and in an earth-conscious, organic way.

My experiences this summer have taught me more than I thought was possible in three months and I am so grateful for the opportunity I had to work with such a wonderful organization. It was an experience I could not recommend enough!