Pulling on baggy work pants and rain boots this evening to take out the trash, I got hit by an extra-strong wave of farm nostalgia. My spaghetti sauce could use some fresh basil, my body could use a few hours of field work, and my spirit misses the company of my four sisterfriends.
Having boots on my feet also reminds me of a promise to update the Abundant Table community on my whereabouts post cross-continent move. After a roadtripping through some of the most beautiful parts of the US (you should have seen the look on the face of the woman selling tomatoes and cucumbers at the farmers market in Casper, Wyoming when I asked if I could pay for my selection in fresh California lemons and avocados!) and spending a few weeks resting and catching up with my parents at my aunt and uncle’s dairy farm in Lancaster, PA, I finally ended up in New York City a little less than a month ago. I just started my fourth week of working on the transition from the farm to the office, from the comfy world of flannel and rubber boots to the ambiguities of “business casual”, from “whenever we’re up til whenever it’s done” to a 9-5.
I’m doing a one-year AmeriCorps position with a community-based organization in North Brooklyn. For the first and final four months, my job is screening our clients (mostly low-income job seekers) for eligibility for public benefits (mostly food stamps and Medicaid). It’s a little like case work – talking to folks to find out what their situation is, helping them fill out applications, letting them know what offices to go to, and following up to see how things went. While the work itself is worlds different from the farm, I find myself continuing to wrestle with one of the fundamental questions posed at the Abundant Table: how to ensure that everyone has access to healthy food.
January-April things will look very different. My co-workers and I will be running a VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assessment) center, helping our clients file their taxes for free and making sure they get all the credits and refunds they qualify for. I’m enjoying my supervisor and co-workers, my interaction with clients, and (ever the nerd) the challenge of learning the endlessly complicated (and dysfunctional) system of public benefits in the U.S.
But as I couldn’t quite handle a complete break with the world of farming and sustainable food systems (and in order to supplement the AmeriCorps stipend that leaves me eligible for many of the benefits I recommend for my clients), I found work once a week as a Market Hand at the New Amsterdam Market. The market is an exciting effort to re-introduce a public market (much like a farmers market, only with more of an emphasis on regionally-sourced prepared foods like cheeses and pies) to New York’s market district in the south seaport area of Manhattan. It’s also an exciting chance for me to interact with vendors, customers, and the odd farm apprentice, and occasionally talk my way into a free loaf of fresh bread or half a bottle of good NY wine.
My free time includes a shameful amount of getting lost, a (thus far fruitless) search for a permanent place to live, a good library, a church community like the Abundant Table, and an affordable place to practice yoga, and vicariously getting my Masters in Food Studies through Mark. I’m enjoying an incredible array of apples, slowly finding new friends, and the ever-fascinating diversity of New Yorkers (my walk 1.5 mile walk to work, for example, takes me from hipster-art-school land through a Hasidic Jewish community and past the projects).
This time tomorrow I’ll also be enjoying the company of a certain Katerina, which reminds me that though my room may be 7x9 (and yes, that measurement is in feet), I always love friendly faces from out of town. It helps with the nostalgia, you know…