2016 Week Three: Food Access & the Environment
This week, my supervisor and I joked about how sometimes we actually enjoy doing tasks such as talking to the city government about reducing a stormwater remediation fee, something that involves being put on hold for what feels like an eternity, because when you complete it, you do feel a strong sense of accomplishment. I felt that sense of accomplishment a lot this past week-I am very nearly done with my first large project, I helped out with a grant project, completed a handful of odd jobs that my supervisors were way too busy to get to, and really felt like I was getting into the swing of things in the office. I look forward to the next half of this internship to keep moving forward.
“Sometimes I can’t help but wonder if we’re one of these fleeting urges or movements that you see throughout history”, my organization’s founder articulated in this week’s staff meeting.
Oh, did I mention that my director is a rabbi? Not just a rabbi, a female rabbi. Nina Beth Cardin, founder and director of the Baltimore Orchard Project, is one of the wisest women I’ve had the pleasure to work with.
However, in this instance I do not share her concern about whether our organization will fall to this common theme with movements. In fact, I HOPE that we are one of these fleeting movements. Not fleeting in the sense that our work and purpose will be forgotten, but instead that our movement becomes incorporated into modern society and thought.
From my perspective, if you no longer have to exist as a movement then one of two things happens to it:
1. That movement dies.
2. That movement becomes part of life.
This is the harsh reality of any group of people working together to advance their shared ideas in hope of change and a strong public awareness.
I do completely sympathize with the stress and pressure (that she really talking about) of what our organization is and will be (I’m just playing devil’s advocate here). However, when I first heard her say this my initial reaction was “don’t we really just want to be a movement, so that one day we no longer have to call it that? Because then one day it becomes natural and commonly accepted into how we exist here on earth”.
So, incase you know nothing about BOP, we’re pretty awesome. We like to keep things simple. We help people plant and steward orchards here throughout Baltimore city. Our weekly staff meetings are not your usual business talk. Instead we make it a weekly study, where we talk about different topics related to working in a non-profit and the environmental sector. However, its more than that. We try to enlighten ourselves by going beyond this confined sector of society.
This week, Nina Beth Cardin brought in an article entitled “Christian Faith and Business: A Story” (by M.L. Brownsberger, I highly recommend reading this to anyone). I was thrown off at first as I have never been a spiritual person, and I didn’t take BOP as a spiritual organization (which it isn’t). Reading and discussing this article with my team really opened my eyes. The past 2 weeks I’ve been slightly frustrated as I don’t feel like I’m always helping the Baltimore community that I am committed to serve. However, it was from this gathering and stimulation that I realized that I am. I was blind to how the culture of BOP fit in to Baltimore.
This article makes a thought provoking point that places do pre-exist us. That pre-existance of Baltimore is both resistance and opportunity. I’ve learned that you cannot just carry out grand plans and initiatives without getting some kind of approval from the greater community. I’ve learned that my organization sticks to maintaining this delicate relationship: “we only go where we’re invited in”.
“The first 5 years last a life time” in someone’s connection with nature. When people want us to help them have a deeper connection with their own “place” whether its Baltimore or nature, we are there. We don’t want to be invited to fit in, we want to help change their sense of place.
This is where I can admit that this is actually something far out of my comfort zone. I have always been a people person. My friends and family love to remind me that I have to sense of personal space, as I love (and tend) to invite myself in to get to know people. I don’t usually do things “simply”. I like being proactive and initiating contact, as its in my nature to do so. You can see why having to wait for someone to reach out to me drives me crazy. But I’m coming to see that it is (no matter how hard it is for me) possible as I am being inculcated into the culture of my organization.
While BOP’s culture is very curious and explorative, it is based on trust in hopes of growth and ultimately a life long impact. I am seeing the convergence of what our organization wants to be and what we are doing, as we live out the identity we seek. In our minds, if we take care of our piece and help others with their own then what better gift can you give?
Peace does not always reign in Peace Camp. On the first day a young boy threw a ball in a girl’s face at recess and she fell backwards onto the ground and hit her head. Then she punched him. Drama abounds as well– one middle school couple formed and imploded within the first week. Though clever and unique and lovable, our kids are not angels in flower crowns. At our field trip to the pool, one boy was asked to sit on the side of the pool because he punched his brother as we entered. After the tears, he promised he would never do bad things again, and taught me some great hand clap games. A small group formed around me and the boy, jumping and calling to be watched.
“Is your mom picking you up after this?” One girl asked me.
“No, I don’t live with my mom anymore. I just live with my friends” I responded.
“Oh, are you a mom?” She asked after a moment.
“Not quite yet”
“So have you had a crush yet?”
“Want to see me turn into Eleanor Roosevelt?” I asked the campers. I ducked under water and fold my wet hair back next to my forehead and turn slowly to the giggling campers.
“Do someone else!”
“Do Elsa from Frozen!”
“Teach me to swim!” Many campers commanded while we were at the pool. I am not a skilled swimming instructor, and I am sorry to say that none of those kids were swimming like fish after my hurried lessons. When the little boy who sat out for most of the field trip finally got his time in the pool and asked to be taught how to swim as well, he inexplicably began jumping as high as he could while frantically flapping his hands. In the end he gave up on the water and landed on me, scaled my torso and clung onto me as if I was a lifeboat in the ocean.
“Did I do it?” He asked.
Although we left the pool joking about how we could possibly get paid for this, one of the parents who came for pick-up was particularly thankful that day.
“There aren’t a lot of camps we can take our kids to unless you got…” Jerry surreptitiously rubbed his thumb and first two fingers together. “Thanks for taking the time to do this- it keeps them out of the streets. You should know I’m thankful.”
These kids are strange, they are funny, they are not perfectly behaved, but at Peace Camp they have a safe space to be all of these things. And many of the campers are as aware of this as their parents. In class this week my heart stopped when an eleven year old girl raised her hand and asked,
“Why they always killing black teenagers?” The violence and the pain are not erased or left behind at the door, and it probably won’t be for a long time. But here it is met with love and peace and joy that I hope they can carry with them when they go.
“I rarely leave the Beltway,” Molly, my supervisor, warns a woman asking about the bike trail from Baltimore to Anapolis. She pulls out a few maps anyhow to try to help. Even if Molly doesn’t leave Baltimore often, she knows her way around. In Baltimore, at Rec and Parks programs, she seems to know everybody, and they know her.
There’s a group of three kids that meet us at the Druid Hill Reservoir sometimes that she’s known for a long time– they even know her daughter. Some explanation as to why we’re at the reservoir- every Wednesday, we lend people bikes to ride around Druid Hill Reservoir in return for their photo ID and an optional donation. Typically, kids need parents to sign bikes out for them, mainly because in the past Rec and Parks has lost bikes by letting kids borrow them without a parent or ID. Molly doesn’t make these three bring parents, mainly because as far as I know in all the time she’s known them, their parents haven’t accompanied them to the parks often if at all, they show up consistently and are fairly polite, and all three boys help us out giving people bikes sometimes. They also show interest in bike repair if D, one of the guys I work with on the bike programs, is out with us working on bikes. (I work mostly with a few guys, who I’ll call DW, D, and B, who are all great! I’d name them, but they don’t work directly with the CIIP- their names aren’t on any forms– and I don’t want use their names without permission. Possibly more on them another time).
The other community members we don’t always talk to long, but I’ve started to recognize the people who come every week. Some bring their children, others come alone for a peaceful cruise or a workout around the lake, others are couples or just groups of friends. We get people of all ages and all experience levels. Some– mainly little boys and some girls– are experts, and spend most of the time doing wheelies and riding around with no hands. Others haven’t been on a bike in years. The current record-holder for number of years without riding said that she hadn’t ridden a bike in forty years. She then proceeded to get on one of our bikes and ride six laps around the lake–about 10.2 miles–giving new meaning to the phrase “It’s like riding a bike: you don’t forget.” It was awesome. If someone isn’t so quick to pick biking up for the first time, or perhaps for the second, Molly also teaches people to ride if we have enough staff and enough time.
Maybe it’s because the bikes are free, or maybe it’s because when people come to the park to ride a bike, they come to relax and have fun. Either way, the vast majority of the community members I’ve met working Rides Around have been extremely friendly and awesome. As someone who gets stressed out about talking to people sometimes, I was surprised to find that it’s one of my favorite parts of the job. Once we had a long conversation with a couple about being sovereign citizens. Another time a group of women around my age were talking to me about their elementary school teacher. Yesterday, a woman’s husband was testing B’s and my Spanish. It’s true that not everyone is friendly, but it’s always minor stuff: once when I gave a woman back her ID, I asked her first name to make sure it was hers and she gave me such a look that DW, the fellow who was working with me at the time, started laughing. “The way she looked at you!”