by Natalie Kane & Hannah Kiger
Events & Outreach Interns
Brian (pictured above at the 2014 Fruity Nutty Affair) heard about the Food Leader Certificate Program through taking gardening classes at the Urban Ecology Center (UEC). But this was by no means the beginning of one of our best volunteers’ food stories. Growing up in difficult economic times, Brian remembers what it’s like to not have access to the nutritious food he needed. “I grew up in a family where we had periods of time where we didn’t have a lot of money and we got food that wasn’t always the best given to us. So knowing that and growing up and now having a good job I’ve always remembered that not everybody has the opportunity that I now have. Not everybody has a choice. So working for those people, whether it’s my job or not my job, is important to me,” he explains.
“I also had some health issues for a period of time that were based from a poor diet. I started to eat healthy and got a membership at Outpost. Then I bought a house and wanted a garden. My garden was not really successful the first year which lead me to the classes at the UEC and eventually to the Food Leader Certificate Program.”
Brian initially joined the program to fine-tune his gardening skills, but he was also interested in the community-building skills that he could gain through the retreats. “For me, the retreats were sort of difficult, because prior to that I was a little bit more shy. There were a lot of team activities that we did together. We cooked together and ate meals together. It was just a lot of opportunity to open up and meet new people.” He learned about different types of people through the program and even made some friends: “It was just great to meet people who think like me,” he says.
After completing the program, Brian was able to revamp his home garden and use the rest of the skills he learned in other aspects of his life. “The program has helped me build a lot of confidence in what I can do and what I’m good at. I walked into it not really knowing anything about gardening—and walked out feeling super confident. I’ve actually become a Master Gardener and a Garden Mentor since then.”
Brian’s garden has even created a tighter relationship within his own neighborhood: “I get a lot of positive comments about my garden. The first year I grew pumpkins and squash, people loved it. We actually took those pumpkins and we carved them for Halloween with the neighbors on both sides of us, and the kids loved it. It’s built a small community. The guy that lives across from us and the people that live on either side come to hang out in our front yard. It wasn’t like that before. I think that if everyone had gardens that would be awesome. It would get everyone out in their front yards and talking with each other.” Amen, Brian.
“I didn’t have all of this care or knowledge to begin with. It’s really been a process to get from where I was to where I am now. It was a radical swing in my lifestyle and thought process. There’s positive change all around us. You just have to find the bright spots.”
We are so grateful to have Brian as one of our Garden Mentors—and one of our brightest spots. Interested in becoming a Food Leader yourself? Check out our webpage and watch for the application coming fall 2016.