Service Learning Reflection: Daniel Ozlowski

From June 13th-16th we went out to Waco Texas to the World Hunger Relief Inc. farm to help out with their day-to-day responsibilities. Over the course of the days there, we helped out with a variety of tasks, ranging from helping with a kids camp they were hosting that week to helping out with more traditional farm chores like helping with livestock, or helping in the garden.

The first morning that we were there, Jake and I woke up early to help out with the morning livestock chores. While we didn’t end up doing too much work with the livestock, we did get a good chance to talk with Sara, one of the WHRI interns, where we learned more about the farm and the different systems they have running on that farm. After the livestock chores were finished, we went back to our dorm for breakfast before splitting up for the rest of the morning chores. On that day, Kara and I went over to their market garden where we helped them with their irrigation system, as well as helping with some weeding. Despite how brutal the sun was as the day progressed, I at least never got overly uncomfortable. The WHRI staff were extremely accommodating, making sure we had plenty of water, as well as making sure we had breaks from the sun.

Later that day we met with Jonathan, the director of the farm, where we had an extremely insightful conversation about the food that we get from the grocery store. We talked a lot about tomatoes, specifically how even when they aren’t in season, we can still get them for less than a dollar even though we are importing them from other countries. He pointed out how this is because the price of those tomatoes is often unloaded onto those picking them since they are often severely underpaid for their labor. That really got me thinking back to working in the garden that morning and how similar, yet still so very different it was to the conditions of those farmers. On one hand, it was a lot of hard work in the hot sun, making it physically demanding. Yet, at the same time, the conditions we were working in were still much better than the conditions of the underpaid farmers overseas. As I had mentioned, the WHRI staff were extremely kind and made sure that we had good working conditions, but many of those overseas are not given those same working conditions; rather they are having to work in just as brutal conditions without the benefits of plenty of water and break time that we were given.

Throughout the conversation with the director, we talked quite a bit about the mission of the farm, raising awareness on hunger, and educating people on how they can help provide to their communities. One of the more insightful takeaways I got from that conversation was how hunger isn’t a population issue, but rather a systematic issue, with us enabling a system in which 40% of food produced just goes to waste and isn’t utilized in any meaningful way. It has gotten me to think about our current system, ways that I am enabling it, ways that I can try to be more sustainable with my food usage, and ways that I can encourage others to be more sustainable with food usage.

The next day, Kara and I went to help with the kid’s camp, and it was actually more enjoyable than I had been anticipating. The WHRI staff had told us that Waco ISD had sponsored them to come to the farm and get a chance to learn about their food and where it comes from. In a way, helping out with the camp was like looking back through time. It gave me a chance to look back to when I would have been a similar age, learning about similar things, and it was amazing to get to see that from the other side. I think that we often take our education for granted, not appreciating just how much we have had the privilege to learn.

That afternoon, we got to participate in the processing of four chickens, and this was probably the most impactful part of the trip for me. We got the opportunity to watch, and participate, in every part of the process, all the way from dispatching the chicken, to the point where the chicken is ready to be cooked. I of course always knew that meat came from animals, but seeing the process really nailed that point home. It has made me much more conscious about not only how much meat ends up going to waste because of me, but more importantly, where I get meat from. WHRI placed a large emphasis on processing the animals in as humane a way as possible, as well as respecting the animal after it is dead. Meanwhile, many factory farms do the exact opposite, prioritizing profits over the well-being of the animals.

That evening, we participated in a hunger banquet hosted by Sky, the director of education at WHRI. In the hunger banquet, there were ten cards each with a scenario on it. Seven of the cards represented the bottom seventy percent of the world, living in abject poverty and facing food insecurity on a constant basis. I was in this group, and we were sat on the floor of their education building, with trash spread about us, representing the environmental injustice many people in our world have to face on a daily basis. Two of the cards represented the next twenty percent of the world; those who may still occasionally have to worry about food insecurity, but overall live a pretty comfortable life in the grand scheme of things. This group sat at a small table, although the key was that they still had a full view of those of us sitting on the floor. The final card represents the top ten percent of the world’s population; those who live comfortable lives, including the majority of people who live in developed countries. The person who drew this card was brought into a candle-lit, air-conditioned room where they could see those in the twenty percent, but not those in the bottom seventy percent.

As I had mentioned, I had drawn a card that placed me in the bottom seventy percent, and that led to some really impactful moments. To start, we had to sit and watch as everyone above us was served, and when it actually came time for us to get our food and water, we had to walk outside and get our food ourselves while everyone else had their food brought to them. The most impactful part however was seeing all the food waste created by the top ten percent. Sara, the one who drew the ten percent card, was given two options on what she wanted to eat, and after she chose Sky brought out both options and dumped the one she didn’t choose into a bucket that was hidden from her, but visible to the rest of us. This entire experience was very eye-opening because I fall into the top ten percent of the world’s population. As everything was going on, I was thinking about every time I had pushed leftover food into the trash rather than saving it for later or putting it to another use such as for compost.

Overall, the entire service trip was very fun and incredibly informative and eye-opening. Going forward, I plan to be much more aware of how wasteful I am being when it comes to food. I plan on trying to mitigate that waste as much as possible, while also looking for more ways to make my life more sustainable, while also finding ways that I can give back to my community.

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