By Lindsey Berk, Buzzworthy Blogs

American novelist, activist, cultural critic, and farmer Wendell Berry once said, “Eating is an agricultural act.” We seem to have forgotten that. At least, I had forgotten that, until I left my corporate job and my NYC apartment in 2011 to begin a three-year journey around Latin America and Australia.

Working on a winery in Mendoza, Argentina, during its harvest taught me the importance of a farmer’s vigilance and dedication — as well as how fickle a crop can be.

WWOOFing (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) in Byron Bay, Australia, brought out my inner child as I delighted in pulling carrots, radishes, and peanuts out of the ground.

Volunteering at a coffee cooperative in Guatemala instilled in me the importance of fair wages and food justice.

After discovering how deep the connection still is between humans and the Earth that sustains us, I hardly recognized myself. Could I possibly be the same girl who had grown up with a plethora of food in the pantry, always answering the slightest hunger rumble with a more-than sufficient meal – and without giving a second thought to how that food got there?

In fact, I am. But now I know how food gets to us. I know that every ingredient has its own journey and that, frankly, not all journeys are created equal. Local or industrial, organic or conventional, direct-trade or fair-trade, slow-food or fast-food. These words were not just created by marketers; they have a real impact on the way we eat.

I also know that we have a serious bee situation on our hands. The bees, our literal lifeline with wild flora reproduction, are dying. The reasons are many, the repercussions vast.

Many people fail to make the connection between bees and our food supply. It goes beyond the honey they produce. On top of that, as a society, we have lost our connection with where food comes from in a broader sense. With today’s emphasis on ease and convenience in every aspect of life, the distance between farm and table continues to grow.

That’s why I teamed up with Operation Groundswell, a community of “backpacktivists,” in Guatemala this fall to lead From Seed to Shelf: Ethical Consumerism from the Ground Up.

The Program

From Seed to Shelf is a nine-day exploration of where our food comes from and what it goes through before hitting the shelves of our local grocery stores.

We’ll go into the jungle to taste raw cacao straight from the pod. We’ll farm alongside coffee farmers while hearing about their daily struggles to live off the world’s second-most traded commodity. We’ll meet with local beekeepers to learn about their recent drop in colonies and harvests, discuss how bees work in the overall food system, and workshop what we can do at home.

We will peel back the curtain of industrial agriculture and see the challenges our food producers face every day. We will research issues like food justice, land distribution, and malnutrition in real time and with real people who face these issues every day, every week, every year.

Guatemala’s unique political and economic landscape will serve as the setting for our adventure. We will get our hands dirty working on a community-initiated project, stretch our legs as we ascend an active volcano, and cleanse our minds in the beautiful hot springs of Fuentes Georginas.

We created this program knowing full well that “we don’t know what we don’t know.” But ignorance is not bliss. Come to Guatemala this fall and take a step toward closing our food-knowledge gap.

Operation Groundswell is a nonprofit organization committed to providing authentic, ethical, and affordable travel opportunities to people all over the world. For seven years, OG has facilitated backpacking and service-learning programs to Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America, carrying out small-scale development projects and building a community of travelers that are socially, environmentally, and politically aware of their impact in the communities they travel to and live in.

For more information, please visit the Seed to Shelf Program website.

Lindsey Berk escaped the cubicles of New York City in 2011 after seven stifling years in corporate America, and found herself nestled in the vines of Mendoza’s wine country as a harvest intern. Skipping her ticket home, Lindsey toured Andean South America and eventually landed at NGO As Green As It Gets, in Guatemala, where she was able to combine her old skills with her new passion in their marketing and sales department. From there, she headed back down to Peru to lead the Operation Groundswell Mind and Body trips in the summer of 2013. Now, more than three years after leaving NYC, she has not looked back and is psyched to lead other travelers around the lands that changed her life. Lindsey is now leading experiential education food and volunteer programs in Guatemala for Operation Groundswell.

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