As I biked over to my first program night at Phoenix Press Farm on James Street, I felt nervous, unsure of what to expect, but also eager to dive in and learn more about the program so many of my coworkers had described to me the weeks before. In some ways, I could relate to the participants that night, some of whom looked a bit confused on where they should go and others of whom seemed excited to learn, but also nervous to get out of their comfort zones. I am from Chattanooga, Tennessee and never identified as a southerner until I traveled up here to New Haven, hundreds of miles from home and realized that “y’all,” barbecue, and other southern comforts were seemingly nowhere to be found. New Haven is a beautiful city, full of culture, life, and diversity, and although my first week here was rough, I feel myself settling in now that I have been at New Haven Farms (NHF) for a couple of weeks and understand my role as an intern.
I initially came here to learn about nonprofits, urban agriculture, and how race and class affects health disparities, but I have quickly recognized that this summer will be so much more than that. I have already learned about the importance of building relationships with members of the community, community representation in nonprofits, and the precarious balance of community benefit and maintenance of a nonprofit. NHF has already proven to be an attentive, inclusive, and considerate organization, demonstrated through the mandatory white savior workshop and thought-provoking conversations I have had with multiple staff about race, class, and health. As a biracial woman, mixed Cambodian and white, I have had issues with organizations that are led and staffed primarily by white people that mainly work with people of color (POC) that are inconsiderate of the issues that POC deal with and have a savior complex. However, I have seen the effort that NHF puts into being attentive and accommodating to these issues and it has proven to be effective.
These efforts came to life at the first week of program nights when over thirty participants came each night. NHF’s Farm-Based Wellness Program has two two-hour program nights per week, one on Tuesday in Spanish and the other on Thursday in English. Tuesday night began a bit stressfully, understandably, due to it being the first program night of the year and many of the staff being new and also experiencing their first program session. Once we worked out the kinks with signing people in, the night was able to progress smoothly with introductions, explanation and expectation of the program, and serving food. Thursday went even smoother because we had a better idea of what to expect and we were able to quickly and efficiently check people in and proceed to the program. We had so many participants that we ran out of chairs! As Jacqueline, NHF Executive Director said, “that’s a great problem that NHF has never had before.”
The energy provided by both participants and NHF staff has been both spirited and efficacious. Participants on both nights came ready and eager to actively participate and learn about how to lead a more wholesome and healthy lifestyle through better eating habits, meditation, and exercise. NHF staff came prepared to ensure that the program ran smoothly, but also to learn more about the participants, how to be inclusive of allergies, food preferences, and the children, and also health and wellness. Healthy living is a continual, renewing process that we must continue to choose each day. Lifestyle change is not a one time choice but a continued progression and life learning experience. I look forward to the lessons I will learn through this program that I can use for the rest of my life in regards to my own health and my career in health and medicine.
Cotie San is currently serving as Wellness Program Intern at New Haven Farms. Cotie graduated in May 2018 from Sewanee: The University of the South with a degree in International Studies.