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Food & Farming / News & Views / Our Voices: FoodCorps Service Member Seeks to Mentor, Educate Kids on Healthy Foods

Our Voices: FoodCorps Service Member Seeks to Mentor, Educate Kids on Healthy Foods

October 4, 2011 | By Kirsten Gerbatsch

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The Michigan Land Use Institute is proud to announce that two of the first 50 FoodCorps Service Members nationwide are hard at work right here in northwest Lower Michigan. Daniel Marbury and Kirsten Gerbatsch are helping a pilot group of schools to purchase and serve healthy, locally grown food; build school garden programs; and connect education to nutrition, healthy eating, and a celebration of local farms. MLUI is the official service site for Daniel and Kirsten, who will be in our region for a year. As you’ll learn from their occasional blogs, they and MLUI have strong partner organizations in this nationwide pilot, including Michigan State University Extension, SEEDS, and the Institute for Sustainable Living, Art & Natural Design. In their first blogs, Daniel and Kirsten talk about their responsibilities and share a bit about who they are. Please welcome them, and stay tuned for more of their reports on Good Food in our Schools!

Earlier this week we heard from Daniel. 
Today we are posting Kirsten’s inspiring blog.

Welcome to Northern Michigan, and thank you again for your inspiring work!

Through FoodCorps, I am working in the Suttons Bay and Northport schools and am partnered with the Michigan Land Use Institute, SEEDS, and Michigan State University Extension Service in Leelanau County. Within these schools I have multiple roles: I am a garden program coordinator as well as a mentor and educator. I collaborate with teachers in order to teach food and nutrition-based lessons and develop hands-on, experiential garden-based curriculum.

I also work with the non-profit SEEDS in Suttons Bay School and will lead an after-school cooking club and a gardening club in the middle and high schools. My mentors and partnerships through FoodCorps are incredible; I feel lucky to work with and learn from such accomplished and passionate individuals. I am fortunate to be serving in a uniquely beautiful region of America, and within a community that is dedicated to supporting the rich local agricultural economy and increasing access to fresh foods for everyone. I look forward to the year ahead and hope to learn as much as possible from my mentors, friends, coworkers, and students. Thank you for your warm welcome to Northwest Michigan!


Background & How I Got into Food and Farming
I grew up in New Jersey with a strong academic interest in the natural sciences. My interest in food and farming did not take root until I moved from New Jersey to Portland, Oregon in 2007 and arrived at Reed College. Moving away from home played a large role in the development of my concern about food. I had to learn how to cook for myself, and I had to figure out what kind of food I wanted to eat. As I had to become more self-sufficient, I began to ask a lot of questions about where my food came from and became increasingly aware of my choices.

As a freshmen in college, I volunteered regularly with the community service group on campus, Students for Education, Empowerment, & Direct Service (SEEDS). I began as the Environmental Education intern as a sophomore, and I took up the Hunger and Housing internship in my junior and senior years.

Due to my evolving concern for the health of my local environment, and how my food choices affected land, animals, and people, I wanted to learn more about food production. So I spent one summer working on a farm. I gained a lot of knowledge—more than I knew what to do with—about food systems, organic agriculture, community support, and farm and nutrition education.

When I returned to Portland for the next year of school as the Hunger & Housing intern with SEEDS, I coordinated weekend service projects with non-profit anti-hunger and homeless organizations such as the Oregon Food Bank & Learning Garden, Habitat for Humanity, Zenger Farm, and transition housing programs. Then, between my junior and senior year, I worked on another organic farm, which was also an educational space for high school students. Throughout the summer I attended city food policy initiative meetings, visited other urban farms and food programs, and mentored high school summer interns in addition to my work on the farm. At the end of August I had never felt so sure of what I wanted to do with my life.

I decided to dedicate my future career to three interconnected goals: to bring positive change through direct service to end hunger, change the food system, and improve youth nutrition in our country. While mentoring high school students at this urban farm, I discovered I have a knack for working with youth. The teenagers I worked with found not only a desire and commitment to learn about growing food but also to plant the seeds of food justice in their communities that summer—they left the farm with handfuls of fresh vegetables they helped grow, determined to learn more and change their own neighborhoods and schools. I want to continue this work, and I value the strong, inspiring relationships built through direct hands-on work and education. I see this kind of education and empowerment among youth as a cornerstone of building healthier, safer communities.

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