By Alexa Kaczmarski, Climate Change Intern
The summer after my junior year at college, where I took classes like Urban Agriculture and Environmental Justice, and before my senior year where I will be facing decisions like what am I doing with my life? and the daunting task of finding an actual job, I knew I wanted to get involved with the food justice movement and test out working for a nonprofit. I found myself in the Bay Area—“foodie” central where everyone composts and your worth as a person is determined by how many miles away that kale you just bought was grown. Hailing from suburban New Jersey, where the Whole Foods are few and far between, Berkeley and Oakland’s farmers markets were heaven to me, and I had a beautiful idea of what the summer, and my internship at CFJC would look like. But, as with many things in life, this summer wasn’t exactly what I expected. My beliefs and opinions about the food justice movement, social work, and myself were challenged and in the end shifted because of my experience at CFJC, prompting me to head back to my senior year of college with new outlooks and inspirations.
It took me a while to determine what CFJC really does, and I still have trouble explaining it to my family and friends when they ask “but what were you doing all summer?” A lot of the work was pretty intangible, but I learned a lot about making connections and telling the stories behind everything. One of my favorite events in the office was a staff training where we discussed the power of stories, and just how important everyone’s story is. We were asked to tell the story of how we got where we are today in five minutes. It’s a wonderful exercise to think about your own inspirations and the challenges and successes you’ve faced along your path, and an even better one watching someone else lovingly craft their own story. I learned through CFJC that no matter where you end up in life, becoming Executive Director of a large, international organization or simply working on a small organic farm, the best thing you can do is tell your story and ask as many people as possible to tell theirs. You all probably have a lot more in common than you think.
The most surprising thing I learned from my internship with CFJC was how political food and environmental justice are. I’ve never been very interested in politics and have studied time and time again how the government blocks the progression of what is fair and right for the environment, minority groups, or low-income citizens of this country. As a result, I’d become quite jaded with the whole political system and until now thought I could choose to ignore it for the rest of my life. I refused to work with a system where the bill that has the most money behind it will get passed (the one backed by large corporations) and where politicians will ignore anything that won’t help them get re-elected. I wanted an entirely new system where the environment was considered before any action was taken and large corporations had no more power than small farmers.
I thought I chose an organization where this ignorance of politics wouldn’t have to change. CFJC, a grassroots community-driven nonprofit surely would not bother with national politics, right? I could not have been further from the truth. Everything we do at CFJC is political. Through attending Food Policy Council meetings, Climate Action Coalitions, numerous working group meetings, and brainstorming conferences, I have seen just how integral political understanding and engagement is to getting things done. Having strong, positive relationships to local government often makes executing projects easier, and understanding exactly what is going on in national government is crucial for getting the public behind legislation that will actually make a difference. I still believe that this system needs some drastic changes, but these are changes that will need to come from within.
Working at CFJC, talking with the staff, the other interns, and everyone I met through partner organizations and elsewhere this summer has shown me how connected everything is—food, climate change, institutional racism, poverty, and politics. I could not be happier that this is the field I am drawn to. I am so excited to return back to my active campus with renewed passion for the environmental and food movements, and also awakened interests in climate justice, racial equality, and political accountability. I’m sure I will use what I’ve learned at CFJC and continue telling my story for the rest of my life, and I can only hope the Bay Area is in my future again sometime soon.