AmeriCorps VISTA Story of Service: Surabhi Mahajan
While it may be obvious to say that if you are hungry you can’t think of anything other than your lack of sustenance, the fact is, thousands of people go hungry on a daily basis. According to a USDA report conducted in recent years, 1 in 6 Oregon families were found to be food insecure (Oregon Hunger). Seeing how this problem is systemic and found to overwhelmingly impact; “communities of color, recent immigrants, families with children and particularly households led by single mothers, people with disabilities, LGBTQ communities and people in rural areas of Oregon (Oregon Hunger)”, it’s because of this harsh reality that programs like the Marion Polk Food Share exist to address this very real issue.
The Marion-Polk Food Share, located in Salem, Oregon is a regional food bank serving Marion and Polk counties to provide food, garden space, and educational resources to families in need. It’s here that AmeriCorps VISTA member, Surabhi, uses her service to propel her passion and belief that all people should have access to basic necessities.
Surabhi’s path to her current role as the Farm & Gardens Program Developer is a natural fit. She recognizes that if an individual’s basic needs are not being met, they are not able to achieve their goals in life. For Surabhi, food insecurity is a clear display of inequality and injustice. I’m sure everyone can agree, all people deserve to have their basic needs met and have access to safe and nutritious food. And that race, gender, orientation, and national origin should not determine whether you are fed or go hungry.
Aligning her skills and knowledge that she has gained during her time at Willamette University, she strengthened her ability to identify inequality and injustice in the community, which has sparked her to move forward and create solutions in the areas where she sees disparity.
During a research internship for a Medical Anthropology class, Surabhi researched the causes of hunger, specifically in the Salem community. This research helped Surabhi better inform the Marion-Polk Food Share and support in the development of programming that address hunger. This is where she identified the intersections of hunger, sustainable agriculture and the creation of real life programs that could provide helpful solutions. She also learned how to run a farm stand on campus.
After graduation, she was looking to gain work experience and to apply what she had learned in the classroom to make the community better. It was then that she saw a position to work with a garden education project at the local food share as a member of the Oregon State Service Corps. She was very excited for the opportunity to have a job that would focus on sustainable agriculture in the community where she lived.
As part of the Oregon State Service Corps, a more direct service program, she first helped with the development of the Seed to Supper classes, did farm work, managed garden volunteers, coordinated garden connection, conducted tabling outreach to the community and participated in the development of the first Mid-Valley Food Summit. All these activities and learning seem to converge and usher her towards her current project.
Because she had become invested in the success of the Seed to Supper project while with the OSCC, she applied to serve another year, this time in an indirect service role as an AmeriCorps VISTA. Through the current VISTA project she has been able to really focus on furthering the development of the Seed to Supper program. In addition she gets to see to the creation of a gardening best practices manual and develop partnerships with healthcare clinics to provide free CSA shares to patients managing a diet-related illness. Getting out in the garden and getting her hands dirty is something that she has had to shift away from. However in exchange, she is a gaining more work experience in project implementation and making existing projects more sustainable.
To find Seed to Supper classes in your area: visit the Oregon Food Bank website where you can search class offerings by county and also download a free copy of their curriculum.
By: Natalia Devine, VISTA Leader