We all have aspects of our work that we like more than others. Some of us hate to fill out paper work, others can’t stand the back and forth of emails, or the interruptions of office life. There’s plenty to like and dislike about work. But for me, when it comes to being a VISTA, I love asking questions. I love questions because I love what comes out of a question – I get to learn more about an issue or a person and I am able to find solutions that otherwise might have gone unnoticed.
There’s so much to know about this place we call Del Norte and Adjacent Tribal Lands. I think too many people take it for granted. The history and transformations this place has undergone aside, there’s a story to every person here that’s next to unbelievable. Residents tell me stories of lives I could only hope to live. Lives full of adventure and tradition. When I ask questions here, I am usually given answers that are insightful and give me strategies for the future.
In recent memory, my supervisor, Angela Glore, and I had the pleasure of attending the Spring Flings of Weitchpec and Klamath this past June. While there, we asked a very specific and somewhat awkward question: What does food sovereignty look like to you?
This question enticed attendants, and begged for more explanation and created a dialogue between myself and the participants. Created some twenty or so years ago, the idea of Food Sovereignty is the "the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems." Angela and I believed we were asking the right question, especially since we would largely be interacting with Tribal people throughout the day. Issues of tradition and sovereignty are completely in line with tribal development. We were interested in how the issues of food development intersected with the greater issue of cultural preservation and development.
The two areas experience a lack of good food resources. In fact, we would term them “food deserts”. Sure there is food in Klamath, and there is food in Weitchpec. No one is arguing that food does exist there, but on the whole residents have a difficult time getting access to good, healthy and affordable food options. Simply stating that people need food, or even "healthy food" isn't enough. Food varies upon the person, religion, culture and geographic region. We all have a favorite food, and particular taste as does cultural food. Shouldn't we catering our food work to that understanding? We must endeavor to improve upon what is wanted and what will be used, not just what's "good" according to a text. Looking over the responses to our question, "what does food sovereignty look like", it's easy to see that residents acknowledge the issue of food in their lives, and how they would like to interact with their food.
These word clouds are wonderful in how different they are than mine would have been. Mine would probably be more filled with big picture ideas, maybe farms and markets, SNAP issues - who knows. The responses that we collected were more appropriate, more grounded for the area. The answers were sincere and about their own personal history. That's what Food Sovereignty is all about. Knowing me, my answer would have little to do with fish. But we were asking mostly the Yurok people, so of course their answers would include fish, fishing, salmon, the river. These assets matter to them and their traditional diet. While the answers were different from what I might expect or what mine would have been, the answers are ten times more meaningful because they give us a strategy, a context to work with. We cannot hope to create a more cohesive food system without understanding what that food system should look like for different populations and areas.
When I first arrived here, I heard talk and interest in learning about the food systems work that has been carried out in other areas to recreate that work here. And while I thought it was a good thought to be considering modeling some aspects of the work off other successful programs, my gut recreation was what about the culture here? What is going to work here? I truly believe that the community does have the answers for most of its problems. If we continue ask the right questions, we will see what will work here, what's right for us and how to proceed. We must continue to remember we are dealing with place and people, together these resources have all the answers we need.