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At the perfect time for a girl fresh into high school to receive a cringe-inducing nickname destined to stick, I acquired the moniker “potato.” When I picked up a picture of myself as a five-year-old and nonchalantly commented that I looked like a potato, friends nearby connected with the irony of assigning this name to a farming, plant-loving person such as myself, and history was made. I understand that it may sound ridiculous to enjoy being referred to as a starchy nightshade, but I have learned to love the name. To be fair, my love of agriculture long preceded the nickname.
As a little kid growing up in Ohio, I always felt my heart tighten with pure joy and wonder as I drove past the gorgeous farm fields. There is something about a field full of crops that gets me excited like nothing else to this day. I would be lying if I said that I’ve never teared up while driving past the expanses of golden, swaying wheat fields in my current home state of Colorado. I assumed such responses were normal until I began to see my friends’ puzzled faces as I shouted out in pure delight at the sight of a field full of cabbage. What began as a childhood attraction to growing things and relentlessly begging to plant vegetables in the yard transformed over time into a full-blown love affair. I spend my rare free time outside of school and sports working in the fields of a local, organic farm, providing labor in exchange for the horticultural knowledge I crave and the sense of joy and fulfillment. In that time, I’ve learned a lot about the way potatoes grow. Potatoes are, as a rule, grown from other potatoes. You take a piece of a potato and plant it in some soil, and if the right conditions and temperatures are present, the potato will sprout and grow anywhere, whether it be in a field or the kitchen cupboard.
Last January, I decided to leave everything behind in Colorado and attend the Maine Coast Semester School at Chewonki to further my agricultural knowledge. Waking up at 5:00 am on pitch-black winter mornings to work on the school’s farm before classes like Environmental Issues, Literature and the Land, and Farm and Food Systems, prompted me to completely shift the way I thought about food production. In Maine, I cut a piece of myself off and planted it in a completely new climate, and the incredible environment of exploration, learning, and compassion provided me with the absolute ideal conditions to blossom. While serving as an ambassador at the Maine Food Security forum, I learned alarming statistics about food waste in this country. Currently, we waste over 100 billion pounds of food per year while 49 million Americans are at risk of going hungry, and that’s not to mention the immense environmental impact that food waste creates. I was outraged at the illogical statistics, so I got to work creating a foundation that recovers fresh, local food that would otherwise go to waste and cooks it into healthy meals for food-insecure families, aptly named Glean for Good. My organization aims to close the disconnect between excess food and those who need it most. This year we have provided families with nearly 1,000 meals made with food from farmer’s markets, restaurants, and large-scale events destined for the dump.
Yes, it’s funny to call someone potato, but I hold the nickname dear as it represents one of the most versatile vegetables in the world, mirroring my ability to adapt and thrive in new environments. As I prepare to (potentially) leave my potato nickname behind in high school, I’ve begun to reflect and see just how fitting the name truly is considering my lifelong dream of holding science close to social issues to advance the future of food.
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