America the Beautiful makes me cry, historically because it has conjured up such beautiful images of our national landscape, and lately because that’s disappearing at an alarming rate. The once symbiotic relationship between agricultural and natural lands has morphed drastically with the advent of “Big Ag,” completely changing the meaning of the words “amber waves of grain.” We read the stories daily. Upwards of 30% of the carbon we release into our atmosphere comes from the monocultural methods by which we produce food, including the manufacture and use of pesticides. Worldwide, we’ve lost 94% of vegetable species in the 20th century. And as our ecosystem is ever more impacted by population growth, urbanization and the effects of climate change, over 40 acres of U.S. farm and ranch land are lost every hour.
As an AmeriCorps Project Conserve member serving Organic Growers School in Asheville, NC, I’m exploring the inextricable link between agricultural resiliency and ecological sustainability. I’m touched daily by a surge of interest in a more mindful way of relating to food, and a more nurturing, eco-integrated regional food system. From whole, organic food, in opposition to GMOs and pesticide use, to “ugly” fruit sales campaigns to reduce waste, we are part of a worldwide “food movement,” a rapidly growing social, political and environmental force. Wow!
In Asheville alone, a movement several decades old includes the Buncombe Fruit and Nut Club, which planted and nurtures a number of “edible parks”, and Bountiful Cities, which developed and supports over a dozen community gardens across the city. Asheville Greenworks installs orchards in underserved neighborhoods.They will also be working with the city on edible plantings in greenways, and on an “adopt a spot” program to involve more local citizens in creating an urban “food forest.” Bee City pollinator gardens are sprouting up everywhere! Organic Growers School provides “eco-agriculture” trainings and consulting services for farmers and home growers, and we gather together our entire food community in conference every spring. Altogether, we are creating a foundation of overlapping interests, forming a cohesive webbing of roots from which an environmentally sustainable local food system will grow. Go Asheville!
As an AmeriCorps Project Conserve member, I have a strong interest in networking throughout this system, as it’s through networks and community that the seeds of hope and action are born. Home growers continue to be a focus, as I begin to work more closely with community members in their own neighborhoods, both learning and teaching with every encounter. I carry my shovel in my car at all times! From distributing 5 gallon buckets for re-use to local growers, to working on the development of a training on food-focused disaster preparedness, to supporting and creating educational events, I’m excited to be here. The possibility of a more resilient future in which “fruited plains” and “amber waves of grain” grow in harmony with ”purple mountains majesties” is a passion I’ll be exploring for many years to come.
Jillian is the 2016-17′ Home Grower Program and Outreach Coordinator and AmeriCorps Service Member at Organic Growers School. Jillian grew up in Los Angeles County, later moving to Tampa, Chicago, and Asheville iin pursuit of her passions. She developed a strong bond to the land early on, and remembers fondly the time spent with her naturalist father and on her grandfather’s farm. These experiences led to professional interests in zoo exhibit landscapes, organic gardening and permaculture as Jillian learned to live with the land, rather than on it.