Solidarity not Charity
During the summer, I (Phuong Nguyen) became coordinator for the Resilient Roots Program. My position focused on teaching high school students the proper techniques and methods in harvesting, along with the history and cultural context that comes along with this practice. This arrangement also blended into Vietlead’s new project in response to this year’s pandemic, The Mutual Aid Weekly Produce Bag Program. I was new to this position as the project was to Vietlead, but I relied on the hope that practice and experimentation would create progress towards a solid structure for the both of us. It somewhat did. Being a coordinator involved more of a hands-on approach and interaction with the farm and students, which I was not a fan of at first. Teaching a whole group as contented social-recluse would not mix well, but remembering that I was in their position once and the fact that a majority of the students are also introverted created a comfortable synergy for all parties. Educating students on the basics of harvesting via remote learning had a very sluggish start, however when both students and coordinators were able to meet and work face-to-face on the farm, it was like all the awkwardness from being behind a screen disappeared. Students’ stance on their work turned a whole one-eighty, and they were eager to just touch soil. I think for all of us, this year’s pandemic caused us all to lose simple pleasures such as the ambience from nature, so setting foot on our farm allowed a small but significant outlet to nature for each of us. So even on the days where temperatures were at its peak, students worked hard to put what they learned into practice, and for me to practice what I preach in my lessons. Nothing is more pleasing than seeing the thumbs of young folks become greener each day, especially for the folks that never even touched gardening. A little push is just what they needed. And that push came in the sweat from a day’s work of harvesting crops from plants that students have never seen, which created a sense of appreciation for where their food comes from. The mutual aid project allowed both students and I to connect to our communities. In the beginning, they were just houses along the streets connected to our farm. Their addresses were on put on GPS and their mutual aid bags filled with the same type of crops harvested that day. As weeks gone by, I find myself staying a little longer after dropping a bag off their front porch and having a little chitchat about what they think about our weekly deliveries. Now, when we walk into the farm in the early morning, we say the names of the folks that are receiving the mutual aid bags that day as if we’re dropping off something for a friend. Some bags might have a little more of some of the folks’ favorite vegetables and house hunting becomes a leisurely walk to a neighbor. The most important thing I’ve learned from this experience is that in aiding our community, we are performing works of solidarity, not charity. The most powerful works come from your fellow community member, especially when we all face the same struggles and understand what support we can provide for one another.
Below is my summary reflection of our harvest and Mutual Aid response from this year:
Harvest weight for this year totaled to 3010 lb! Long season crops (collards & kale) flourished during summer in terms of production and quantity. Collards were the favorite among the Camden mutual aid (CMA) folks during the weekly deliveries. Due to pest infestation, both collards and kale production halted towards the end of summer season. Edible weeds (dandelion greens, lambsquarter, & purslane) were added to the mutual aid bags to inquire CMA folks initial reaction. Feedback was adequate/moderate, so we will continue to add our nutritious weeds next season. Herbs were popular among mutual aid folks who were Vietnamese, especially shiso, Thai & Italian basil, and scallions. Crop production of herbs did well throughout the year in both warm and cold temperatures. Summer vegetables was the most favorited. Crop production for cherry tomatoes, regular tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant did excellent throughout the entire year and received many positive feedback from folks. Majority of harvested hot peppers went towards our first Jersey Roots’ Hot Sauce Project! Water spinach was popular among the Vietnamese community and did well in warmer temperatures. Bittermelon, thai eggplant, long beans and watermelon had sufficient production and were also favorites among folks.
About the Grantee
VietLead is a grassroots organization that strives to improve health, increase sovereignty, and develop Vietnamese leadership in solidarity through intergenerational farming; youth leadership; health navigation; policy advocacy; and civic engagement. Our Food Sovereignty and community garden program was built from seeing how food is an important part of how refugees practice self-determination.