Sustainable Food Systems, Sustainable Communities

by Phoebe Neel '13.5
June 12, 2013

Phoebe Neel '13.5 is an Impact Providence intern this summer working at Farm Fresh Rhode Island.


Its difficult to describe my experience thus far interning at Farm Fresh, as it feels as though it’s barely begun. I’ve worked in the office long enough to learn to dress for its frigid air conditioning and to begin to be caught up in the incipient momentum of project planning. I’m working for Sarah, the Markets Coordinator at Farm Fresh, a local food advocacy organization that runs 9 summer farmers markets across Rhode Island. Under her generous wing, I’ll be representing the organization at a number of different markets, enabling government assistance funds like SNAP and WIC to be converted into currency to be used to buy fruits and vegetables at the markets. I’ll also be organizing a number of health fairs to take place at markets through the week of July 22 – 27th, and helping out with a program that collects donations from farmers for food pantries.

My involvement with local food has previously been almost entirely tactile – through touching dirt and plants, through forging human connections, I’ve built my own understanding of where food comes from, and why sustainable food systems and communities matter. I currently work on an oyster farm in addition to my internship, and the stale seawater smell of my backpack serves as a reminder that while I sit in the office working to coordinate the markets, the farmers in the fields and on the waters are tirelessly cultivating food for our consumption. While initially struggling with how the work at Farm Fresh that needs to be done in an office can seem abstracted from the issues at hand, I’m learning the importance of recognizing how the work I do is tied into real issues that viscerally affect peoples’ livelihoods across Rhode Island. Every social issue needs to be tackled from a multitude of perspectives, both organizationally and on the ground. Within that, even seemingly mundane tasks like data entry and/or statistical analysis are hugely important cogs of a system of effective and sustainable food markets. Working in a non-profit has been a lesson in perseverance and reflection in order to see the larger connections within a system. I’ve also been learning a tremendous amount from my internship coordinator about the value of bringing positivity, energy, and creativity to any task.

I’m excited about the upcoming road ahead, especially beginning to do outreach for the SNAP and WIC programs at farmers’ markets, which give consumers an extra $2 per $5 they spend on fresh produce. Another unanticipated but exciting element of this internship is how I’m able to bring my other connections and experience to bear on my work here. In the course of doing outreach, it’s great to be able to call upon my relationships with individuals and organizations in Providence to build a hopefully more effective network of people who utilize this resource. With setting up health fairs at the farmers’ markets, it’s empowering – and often nerve-racking – to have the autonomy to shape what events will look like, to understand how the ideas I have at my desk, translated into plans on paper, sent through emails and phone lines, carried through vans and arriving with time, will become action and reality. While these are my very initial impressions of work at Farm Fresh, with less than a weeks’ worth of work under my belt, I look forward to this summer of working to set more sustainable practices in place, connecting consumers and producers, and navigating the web of our food system while wearing multiple hats.