[Note: This post is identical to one I just did on the Abundant Table Farm Project blog which is where you can meet my four wonderful housemates/sisters/friends, and where we plan to document our farming adventure!]
While I won’t start the story of what brought me to the Abundant Table centuries ago, it does begin on the other side of the world. After growing up in Nairobi, Kenya and three years at Wheaton College outside of Chicago I chose to spend six months doing interning in Phnom Penh, Cambodia as part of my major in International Relations. Though the focus of my work was on land rights and non-violent resistance to forced evictions, I found situations closer to home captured my attention as I began to understand the dynamics of the Cambodian community I lived in. My host family were garment factory workers in a poorer neighborhood sandwiched between two sweatshops. Systems of production and consumption and the infrastructure that supports them that had been largely invisible to me growing up in more affluent neighborhoods became very obvious. I started to think much more about where things came from (did I really want to eat the morning glory picked in the contaminated marsh behind our neighborhood?) and where they went (what would I throw away when I knew the trash bag was tied up and thrown in the pond in the center of the community?) My new neighbors and I dealt daily with the consequences of not only these local systems, but also a supply chain that stretched thousands of miles – back to my neighborhood in Chicago and countless other U.S. communities. The factories that the women I lived with worked in were producing clothing for stores in the U.S. like Gap and Old Navy where I had once shopped.
While the factories did provide jobs with relatively decent conditions and brought economic growth, it came at a significant price. The chemicals emitted from the factory behind my house were eating through our metal roof, and many of my friends and neighbors began experiencing unemployment as soon as the U.S. recession again. As I returned to the U.S. for my final semester at Wheaton, awareness of the unsustainable relationships between producer communities such as the one Cambodia and consumers in my Chicago suburb guided the lifestyle choices I hoped to make after graduation, but had little impact on my post-graduation job search initially. Trying to eat locally/seasonally, fostering face-to-face relationships between producers and consumers, living mindfully of my environmental impact, and being a part of a spiritual community committed to social justice were things I hoped to fit around work in research or advocacy in Washington, D.C. When the Abundant Table Farm Project description came my way, I was caught off-guard by the opportunity to take 11 months to focus on those themes. At first, spending a year working on an organic farm/CSA in southern California was so different from what I expected to be doing that I couldn’t even bring myself to read the entire internship description. It sounded too good to be true, a possibility that would distract me from my job search. Obviously my self-restraint was less than absolute – I did allow myself to open that email again, and five or six months later, I’m enjoying the beginning of many good things, starting my post-college life on the opposite side of the country than I expected to be and in an occupation I never would have predicted for myself, yet somehow in just the right place.