Service-Learning Reflection: Kara Montgomery

In June 2022, our Bridge Adventure group went to the World Hunger Relief Farm (WHRI) in Waco, Texas and it was there that we got to work alongside the farm’s staff in livestock chores, gardening, and helping with the youth summer camp. Going into this trip my focus was on the work I would be doing, but by the end, my focus shifted to all the people I met, the interesting facts about world hunger and sustainability, and the eye-opening experiences that I will forever remember.

On our first day arriving at the farm Sky, the director, gave us all a tour of the farm and explained all the ways they implement sustainable practices. What surprised me most during the tour was how small the farm was and it got me wondering how a farm of its size could be focusing on an issue as big as world hunger? It wasn’t until the end of the tour that I was able to understand the WHRI mission and the actual impact they have. I learned that the WHRI focus is on food insecurity and making it less severe by partnering with their local community, spreading awareness through education on the issue, and creating/teaching sustainable practices that will help provide access to healthier foods.

After learning what the farm does and its main focus we were asked several questions that had us questioning why it was all necessary. Why is food insecurity a thing and why are some areas higher than others especially for the younger generations? The answers we provided all seemed to do with the individual lifestyles and situations people are faced with and the decisions they choose to make, however that is not the reality. We were then told a metaphor that helped open my eyes to the situation. We were told to imagine a pond and as you walk along with it you see a dead fish and your first response is that something must be wrong with the fish but the next day you walk by the pond again and there are several dead fish so now you think something must be wrong with the pond, not the fish.

When it comes to food insecurity we must look at the pond, not the fish, in other words, we must not look at the people as the problem but the food industry as a whole that provides the food.

Something else I discovered about the impact WHRI has is the difference their sustainable practices make when it comes to the health and nutrients of their food. While their farm might be small they make use of all the resources they have available, resources that we normally wouldn’t even think to be beneficial such as our food waste or human waste. All over the farm, the staff makes full use of compost stations which is where you create a natural plant fertilizer by recycling organic matter which they did by using leftover food from the day before, leaves, and human or animal waste all of which can create a high nutrient-filled soil. They then would use the animals on the farm to help spread the compost such as the chickens that would be rotated around the field spreading the nutrient-filled compost helping the overall health of the land. While I can talk about all the amazing things the WHRI farm does, it is the work and experiences I had on the farm that personally affected me and gave me a new perspective.

On the first full day on the farm, I and another Bridge Adventure member got to help in the market garden. Once at the market garden, we were taken to a certain section where weeds had overrun it, and to start growing new plants it had to be mowed but they also couldn’t mow until the drip lines were removed. We then for the next couple of hours helped remove all the dripline and afterward moved to a new section where we pulled weeds growing throughout a line of bean plants. After doing all this work I find myself thinking a lot about the actual process and work that has to be done to even start growing plants.

Anytime I ever thought about this type of work before this experience I always thought about those large fields with the large machines that I just assumed did most of the work. Additionally, it never crossed my mind to think about weeds or having to cut down what was previously growing to then grow it again.

This biggest takeaway, however, was the connection I made with the realization of how much work has to be done and then how much the workers are paid for all that they’ve done. We had been asked previously where our tomatoes come from during the winter and we responded that they are from other countries or places that are experiencing warmer seasons. We were then asked how much it then cost to ship those tomatoes so that they get to our stores in time so that they are still good to buy which we did not know.

Lastly, we were asked that after all that work and money to get the tomatoes to our stores how much is a tomato then sold for which we were told it’s around 96 cents. How much of that 96 cents is given to the workers who are out all day helping the tomatoes grow, picking them, cleaning them, processing them, and packaging them? We were told they get paid around a penny for each tomato which is not enough for most of them to support their families. Knowing that and looking back at the work I did just for a day changed my perspective when buying produce. Before I would walk into a store and would see the cheap prices I viewed it as something that helps benefit me but now when I see those cheap prices I think about those workers and all that they had to do and what that price means to them rather than myself. It makes paying extra for your products seem worth it because you know it is deserved and should be worth more than what they’re selling it for.

There was another life-changing experience that I was a part of on the farm and that was the hunger feast. On our last night on the farm Director Sky said they would be providing dinner to our group and some of the staff and for the most part that is all we knew going into it. Once we arrived at dinner Sky had cards from which we would choose at random and that card would tell us who we were for the night and the kind of life we live. Sky told us the cards were the population percentage we represented in the world concerning world hunger.

There would be 70% which represented the poor who do not have access to clean water, jobs, education, electricity, or even utensils. Then there is the 20% that do have access to electricity, and clean water, but still have issues such as gender inequality in food. Lastly, there is the 10% which are the people who have access to everything and are provided options as well as being waited on. The card I chose represented 70% and it said I was considered to be in the untouchable class in which I am denied clean water, education, and jobs. After we got cards we were then taken to where we would be having dinner. For the people in the 70%, we sat on the floor with trash all around us, the 20% sat at a table with cold clean water in glass jars, and then the 10% were taken to a closed room with a table lit dinner with a variety of drink options provided by a waiter. My group the 70% had to wait for everyone else to get their food before we could get ours and while we waited more trash was being thrown on the floor next to us. When the 20% were given food the female had her sweet potato and some rice thrown away while the male got to keep all his options. I should also mention all the food being thrown away was in a bucket visible for the people in 70% and 20% to see but not the 10%. I mention this because when the girl representing the 10% was given options for what she wanted to eat throughout the night whatever option she didn’t choose then all that food would just be thrown away or if she didn’t like a certain food or just couldn’t finish it then all that would also be thrown away.

As for my group, we had to go outside and get our water, however, our water was not clean. We then brought our water back and then had to go right back outside to get our rice that wasn’t fully clean and also had to be portioned so that everyone in the group had equal amounts. We then had to eat the rice with our hands because we did not have access to utensils. Throughout this experience the mood started to shift, in the beginning, we all kind of laughed about the situation but as we watched food being thrown away as well as the trash being tossed all around us that laughing turned into frustration as well as a realization that while we are in character the lives we are demonstrating are true for many people in this world.

After the dinner, I got to discuss with the others the impact we each experienced, and I and another member in the 70% felt that even after dinner we couldn’t drink the clean water we did have in front of us and that it now felt wrong and that we still had to play our characters even after it was done because by the end it felt so real. Additionally, someone said they had thought that after we all went through that demonstrative dinner, we would be given actual food at the end. Even when I told this to my family after the trip they assumed the same thing but if they were to do that then it wouldn’t feel as real as it did and we wouldn’t have understood the actual gravity of the situation.

We went to bed hungry and doing so helped us further step into someone else’s shoes and see the severity of the issue of world hunger. This experience truly opened my eyes and while it showed me a different perspective it also made me more appreciative of what I have in my life. One of the things I continuously thought about after the dinner was how me and my family will carelessly open our refrigerators and complain that there isn’t any food we want and yet the fridge is full of stuff not to mention it is being refrigerated. Still, when I think about the hunger feast I think about more things that have an even bigger meaning such as the trash being dropped on the ground by the 70%. This reminded me of a documentary I watched about this beautiful thriving island that was then turned into a landfill full of waste. This island had a small community with tons of land and bigger countries trying to get rid of their waste saw this land and took advantage of it by dumping their waste there. Over the years this island was absorbed by methane gas and the people that lived on the island were getting sick and dying. That just goes to show our carelessness toward our waste and where it is going as well as its impact after it’s thrown away. Another bigger picture I saw was how the placement of each group was arranged in which the 70% could only see the 20% and to them the 20% were rich, then the for the 20% they could see both the 70% and 10% in which they viewed the 70% as poor and the 10% as rich, lastly the 10% could only see the 20% but still, they were behind a closed door so to them the 20% are poor but they are unaware to what is happening to the majority of the world. Everything I have learned throughout my experiences on this trip has forever changed my perspective and knowledge about world hunger.

On our last day as we were about to leave I was asking myself what I am going to do with all the new knowledge and what can I change about my life now that can help continue what WHRI has set out to do for food insecurity? First and foremost I believe spreading the word about what I have learned to others can help start providing awareness and hopefully encourage more people to be curious and eager to learn more about world hunger and sustainable practices.

Another thing I can personally do is to find new perspectives or take into account the lives of others when I do something that can impact them such as buying produce. In the future, I would love to do some traveling to help open my world to new places, people, and cultures to see what I can do to help. I am also interested in finding ways in my own life to incorporate more sustainable practices and whether that be creating a compost bin or being more cautious and creative with the resources I use and the ways I might reuse them. Most importantly I hope to inspire, encourage, and educate those around me on all that I have gained from just the four days I had at the WHRI farm.

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