Please describe your current and/or previous roles that relate to your work for justice and equality.
I sought out workplaces that prioritize environmental justice after graduation. After finishing my schooling at Lafayette, I served as the sustainability fellow in the College’s sustainability office, where I helped to oversee EcoReps (student sustainability advisors), improve recycling and waste streams, aggregate greenhouse gas data for the College’s records, and plan educational events. Equal access to healthy, green spaces is vital for a thriving community. Northeastern Pennsylvania has always been my home, so I wanted to continue working here—and specifically with boots on the ground. I’ve been so fortunate in finding a home at the Greater Easton Development Partnership, where I assisted to start Easton’s first residential compost program (keeping our food loop local and limiting emissions and waste), and oversee five community gardens (now known as Easton Garden Works) in Easton that provide neighbors with access to green space that positively affects their health, the community’s, and the broader environment.
What about your work brings you the most joy or gives you the most pride?
It has been incredibly satisfying to start seeds in the winter, and tend to them through harvest. Handing off your seedlings to gardeners who, in turn, grow tomatoes and peppers in abundance is very rewarding. Even more so when that produce is then donated to our neighbors for the Vegetables in the Community program, or to local pantries. Seeing personal growth and sparking interest in nature during our children’s programming has also been very satisfying. We grew cucumber seedlings with children from the Easton Area Community Center this summer, and seeing them check on their seedlings each week and note the changes in the plant was so interesting. Kids have a unique perspective on things they find in the garden (bugs, compost, etc.), and watching them relay newly discovered facts to their parents makes it feel like they’ll grow up caring about how they interact with their environment and community.
What is your most meaningful moment or significant accomplishment as it relates to your work for justice and equality?
Easton Garden Works’ efforts for food sovereign neighborhoods has been so meaningful. We put a lot of time into providing plants, seeds, and container gardens for community members to actively grow their own produce in their backyards or porches. This year, we gave out over 300 free seedlings we started ourselves and 30 free milkcrate container gardens (which was a great collaboration between the Highmark Farmstand and local coffee roaster Homestead Roasters), and provided spaces for 51 community gardeners to grow their own food. It has also been incredibly meaningful to assist Lafayette’s Vegetables in the Community program, where our West Ward neighbors are provided fresh, locally-grown, affordable produce by student staff at LaFarm and the Easton Urban Farm. Especially during COVID-era uncertainty, the dedication that VIC put into weekly veggie stands meant that the community could gather distantly/safely for healthy food. Otherwise, it’s also rewarding to know that we have around 600 families in Easton and surrounding areas that have contributed to the compost program that otherwise would be tossing food scraps right into the trash.
What is the greatest hurdle you’ve had to overcome?
GEDP adopted the community gardens from a previous non-profit two years ago, making it a very new program. We’re wrapping our heads around all of the opportunities and directions we can go with the program, while also slowly building our inventory of tools, supplies, and partners. As we’re building our future plans and resources, it’s easy to get bogged down by some of the “smaller” (though equally as important) tasks. Spending a full day groundhog-proofing the gardens or cleaning out seed trays feels tedious, but it’s impossible to reach greater goals if you don’t do the small steps along the way. We’re working to balance all the steps necessary for successful farming and program management.
How do you empower those around you?
I think it’s less about empowering those around me, than it is about being inspired and empowered myself. One family in the community gardens grows sagaa (spider plant) to round off their family’s traditional Kenyan meals, and it’s amazing to know that without space to grow it, they likely couldn’t find this food elsewhere in the area. It’s humbling to know that if I can just provide some decent soil, space, or resources, my neighbors already know how to make the magic happen. Sharing resources and land together empowers us to eat more healthfully, steward the land, and revitalize our spaces.
What short phrase would you offer others to inspire them to have hope and/or to take action?
One of our community gardeners last year used to say, “Share what you grow and grow where you’re planted.” I’ve loved that sentiment ever since. I am lucky in that I’m surrounded by co-workers, neighbors, and a community that actively participates and contributes to Easton. It is special to live in a place that people care so much about. Stepping up and being an active part of the community not only gives me hope, but helps me feel like my voice matters. Growing where my roots were planted has grounded me.
How has this summer’s civil unrest and calls for equity impacted you?
The civil unrest seen this summer reminds me of the rallies for racial justice I attended at Lafayette as a student. It has been inspiring to see the community gather to envision a safer, better place to live. As a white person, these calls for equity have reminded me to make connections to and better hear Black leaders in the community and calls for action. The connections made by my coworkers have led us to co-host educational children’s gardening events, and I’m looking forward to more collaboration.
How has your perspective changed since the time you were a Lafayette student?
As a student, I was diligent about carrying all recyclables home, cleaning them stringently, and otherwise meticulously curating my personal life to support environmental and socially-just morals. Since then, bigger systemic issues have made me focus less on my everyday personal choices and more on supporting organizations and structural sustainability. Local elections, supporting regional non-profits and events, buying local, and actively participating in the community help me feel that I’m making a greater difference by focusing on collective change. I’m more focused on knowing and supporting my neighbors now.