I fell into farming twice in my life.
The second time was after working for an international development NGO for four years in Washington, DC. Our organization had gone on pause due to lack of funding and I lost my job except for a few consulting projects. At that point, I had decided to dedicate myself to a fulfilling volunteer experience, and interests I had developed abroad led me to the right opportunity quite naturally.
A small Indian spice shop had just opened in my neighborhood. Fascinated by the owner's story and goals to educate community members about the origins of their food, I went into chat with her. She mentioned buying vegetables and herbs from Three Part Harmony farm, which at the time, was well-positioned to become the largest urban farm in the DC metro area. That following week I joined several
other volunteer crew members on a cold fall morning to prep beds for planting. A couple days a week, I would wake up early and take the metro up to Northeast DC to the two-acre plot. Some days our group would tackle big tasks together such as weeding entire rows, planting seedlings or harvesting greens leaf by leaf. Other days, I spent time alone focusing on one thing; endlessly harvesting sungold tomatoes in the summer, bunching together easter egg radishes and hakurei turnips in the spring and pulling up root vegetables in the fall. Thursdays were harvest days for the farm's 100 plus CSA members and for a mostly volunteer-run farm, this meant working quickly. When we weren’t harvesting, we took on the maintenance work that varied by season. I learned to be meticulous and productive under a variety of weather conditions.
My first time farming was back in college when I spent a summer living in a small mountain town on the slopes of the Irazú volcano in Costa Rica. I traveled most weekends and worked at a local preschool during the week. Curious about the challenges small family farmers in the region were facing in transitioning from conventional to organic practices and obtaining certification, I started a research project. While working alongside the local ministry of agriculture and a central-american NGO, my many conversations and interviews with farmers led me to spending work days on their small plots.
When we travel, although we are in a new environment, we are living with less fear and a greater sense of openness towards people, food and experiences. We partake in adventures, big and small, that to us, are seemingly fleeting moments we feel we must relish in because they may be one-time occurrences. But I don't think we should ever view our travel experiences that way. If we live with the same openness upon returning from our travels, we just might see where any number of those new experiences or skills fit in to our lives or can be reincorporated into our routine for a second time. In Costa Rica, I had the time and freedom to understand food systems on a small scale through hands-on working activities. Six years later, I sought to get back to those same activities, creating and reliving a travel experience for myself in my own community.
Alyssa Perez currently lives in Baltimore, MD where she is pursuing her MBA at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. Her interest in agriculture has led her to gain experience in developing marketing strategies for sustainable smart foods in India, wine brands in California and most recently, Baltimore-based meal kit delivery startup, Terra’s Kitchen. Alyssa earned her undergraduate degree in Spanish Language and Literature, and Communication Studies from the University of Michigan, Go Blue!