Food for Thought or Thought from food?

Book review of Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Alyssa Peteani, serving with Champlain Housing Trust

omnivores-dilemmaThe Omnivore’s Dilemma examines the way we look at our food system here in the United States. Through examination of our current industrial system, organic, self-sustaining farms and hunter gather, Pollan weaves an incredible story of our food from start to finish.

At first glance the Omnivore’s Dilemma doesn't seem to relate to my service here at the Champlain Housing Trust. However, I found there were more similarities between our natural and built world than I had ever realized.

This became especially poignant when Michael Pollan visited the Polyface Farm in Virginia. Polyface Farm is run by Joel Salatin and is the purest example of organic that Pollan came across in a self-sustaining farm. There are no chemicals used on the farm and every aspect of the farm’s activity is carefully planned. Trees are planted around the outskirts of the farm to break up wind coming through the farm. This ensured that the grass used all of its energy to produce nutrients and sugars instead of holding itself up against the harsh winds. The grass is then eaten by the cows who are rotated from field to field to ensure that fields aren’t depleted of nutrients and fertility. Chickens follow the cows in order to eat the grubs in the manure, which rid any parasites. The chickens also aerate the soil by peck and scratching at the ground. Chicken manure is then left behind providing rich, organic nitrogen into the soil. Pigs, turkeys, rabbits and other animals also play a similar role in the natural upkeep of the farm. Each entity in this farm is a “holon,” which is derived from the Greek “holos” to mean “simultaneously a part and a whole.” Every aspect, down to the smallest particle, plays an essential part in the success and growth of the farm.

This concept become especially obvious during my AmeriCorps site visit. I was asked to reflect on my service thus far at the Champlain Housing Trust. I had been so embedded in my work that it was very refreshing to step back. I spoke of how much I learned during my training and how I've grown as a person. But, there was a piece to my service that seemed the most important. I felt more interconnected with everyone around me. Everyone who I had and will come in contact with had something to teach me. Everyone I met knew something I didn’t. I began to look at the people around me as holons within themselves. We all have our own lives but we’re also part of the whole that is all around us.

I joked with my director about how I had actually met her almost a year back while I was in college. I was a history student taking notes at a housing roundtable event for my work-study job. I had no idea what I wanted to do after college and felt overwhelmed with the idea of trying to find a career path after graduation. When I first arrived I walked into to the elevator to join another woman waiting. I had no idea who she was or what her role was but we chatted in the elevator anyway. Looking back I think it’s amazing how blissfully unaware I was that in years’ time I would be happily working in her office on a career path I never thought I’d be on. What seemed to me as a transient conversation with a woman I never thought I’d see again turned out to be the beginning of a very rewarding service that would finally point me in the right direction.

VHCB AmeriCorps is a program of the
Vermont Housing & Conservation Board.

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