Erin Beagle is the Executive Director of Roots to Harvest, and there is so much to admire about her, but what stands out for me the most is her ability to see things from different perspectives. When the organization’s bikes were stolen a few years ago, instead of getting angry as most people would do, Erin reached out with humour and kindness and immediate forgiveness (to read the letter go here). Recognizing that whoever stole the bikes has their own story is not something most people would do but that’s Erin. She understands that people are facing a variety of challenges in life and that there is always more to the story. She sees the value in ALL people, and works tirelessly to build community and help youth see their potential despite sometimes the circumstances of their lives telling them they have little. By any measure the work Erin does is hard, profoundly needed, and sometimes opposed by some in the community afraid of progress. Recently a small group of “taxpayers” vocally opposed the opening of a new community garden in a vacant field because they think it would increase crime, rats, bees, and harm property values. Erin once again stepped into the public spotlight to kindly but firmly educate both the individuals and the public on what the organization does and what a little bit of change can do for people and communities. Just another typical day for Erin: digging in the dirt, raising money, building relationships with community groups and members, running board meetings, working beside a youth to make sure s/he knows s/he has much to offer, and going face-to-face with trembling NIMBY’s afraid of change. And she’s also an amazing friend, a mother to two young kids, a wife, sister, daughter, and individual with a life beyond work and family, but she has chosen to grace our little community with her values, strength, empathy, and humour, and we are all better for it. – Introduction by Anna Nelson
At Roots to Harvest, we work towards change. In all of the messy, chaotic, undefined aspects of what change means. And the backdrop where all of this happens are productive, inspiring and beautiful spaces that grow food.
Sometimes when I describe what Roots to Harvest is, I want to leave the part about food and farming out though, because it’s distracting. People immediately jump to all the wonderful things about urban gardening and preserving food and saving seeds and, and, and. But it’s not about that. And, it’s not NOT about that either. It’s easy to get distracted though. Because food is sexy these days and people’s messy lives are not super sexy.
The people we work with, (and, I’m starting to think people in general) are coping. They’re coping with whatever life has given them. Sometimes this means they’re trying to disappear, sometimes they are trying to fill in the gaps and the voids, sometimes they’re just trying to keep one or two things in the air so they don’t completely drown. They’re coping. We all are. But to move forward, or to just move sometimes, we need experiences that bring our true selves out.
To put it simply, Roots to Harvest is all about people. And that backdrop that I mentioned above – that’s where the magic happens. Usually, it’s after something was hard. The weather was hot, the shovels were heavy, the problem was complicated, the frustration was high – in short, the day was hard. And in those moments, and in those spaces that are productive and vibrant and organic in all the ways that organic was meant to be, people experience the best of themselves in those hard moments. The parts of themselves that are resilient and strong, quiet and focused, quick thinking and able. And with just a little bit of set up on our part, we can help them translate that experience of themselves to life more broadly and they begin to see – even if for just a second – that they matter, there’s a place for them in, and that they’re needed and of use.
And change comes slowly. It’s not always at the pace we want it to be at, or the individuals want it to be at or even the pace our funders want it to be at. But it comes. Stronger social networks, more employable skills, better habits for long term health. Over the years, we’ve increasingly seen the need to be advocates and use our voices and privilege to speak up. Because almost none of the messiness in people’s lives is about food, though food often becomes the tangible thing to try to make a difference in. Mental health, housing, basic income, childcare, education, fair employment, personal safety – these are the ones we need to pay attention to – and let food (growing it, preparing it, purchasing it, foraging for it) be the piece that brings us together to have those conversations and find the points where we intersect.
Crucial to this work is having the right folks to lead it. At Roots to Harvest we seek to bring together the passionate people who want to contribute, who put in the long hours, and who look for the best in people, even when it’s not always obvious at first. Some of these folks are teachers or social workers or farmers or dieticians – all of whom have some lived experience to relate.
At our heart, we all remain, ‘Punks Growing Food’ – validating the fringe as an alright place to be, finding ways to positively contribute to the community, and controlling some of the messiness that takes us off course. It feels great.