I decided to try my hand at farming to complete community service hours for school, since I had some experience chasing after chicken and digging manure in a small farm in Mexico (that is in itself another story!). As a food blogger and medical student, I understand the necessity of receiving proper nutrition in order to survive and stay healthy. When we think of hunger, we mostly envision bony children with bloated bellies, waiting in long lines for some mealy porridge and water. This is the kind of hunger we see on billboards, on television---the evident starvation in countries with severe food shortage that one cannot miss.
However, there is also a largely unseen kind of hunger that is very present day-to-day in the US. It exists not because we lack food or the land or the resource to produce it. In fact, the US throws away 35 million tons of food each year. It is a kind of hunger that may not present as typically skinny, but excessively obese. The kind that is caused by food insecurity and consequences of low income and poverty. We see this in many inner city areas including those in Richmond, where low income families are unable to afford fruits and vegetables, unable to access a grocery store and unable to find fresh food among the ever-growing number of pizza, burger and fast food joints. Food insecure and low-income people also face unique challenges in adopting healthful behaviors including cycles of food deprivation and overeating, high levels of stress, limited access to health care and fewer opportunities for physical activity.
Wanting to know more about food insecurity, I began to spend my weekends at Shalom Farms, a farm with a mission to increase access to fresh produce in urban Richmond. There, I learned the importance of sustainable organic farming and eliminating wasteful resource use. I was able to get hands-on experience harvesting all kinds of gourds, peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes. I pulled out weeds from the berry patch in preparation for the next cycle of planting and even recycled rotting tomatoes to fertilize the soil. As an organization that relies on volunteers, I was grateful to be part of the experience. It felt good to know where the food was coming from, how it was being grown, and to know that it will soon be distributed to communities in need.
Minimizing inequalities to food access and stopping hunger starts with increasing healthy options, encouraging nutritious behavior and empowering communities to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I know that nutrition education that will play a large role in my career as a physician and hopefully, I will soon be counseling patients about food, diet and making healthy choices.
Thanks to Shalom farms for the invaluable learning experience! (details about the farm below). Here, I made a dish focusing on local produce and simple preparation as a reflection of my time spent at the farm.
Roasted Winter Harvestadapted from Martha Stewart
1 pound beets (about 3 medium) - mix of red and golden, trimmed and scrubbed
1 medium onion, cut into 1/4" slices
1 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4" slices
2 medium plum tomatoes, cut into 1/4" slices
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wrap beets tightly in parchment-lined foil. Roast on a baking sheet for about 30 mins (just par-cooked). Let cool completely and then peel and cut into 1/4-inch slices
- Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees
- In a 5x7" deep dish or oval gratin dish, stack sliced of potato, beet, tomato and onion so they look like collapsed dominos
- Season with salt, pepper and a dash of Worcestershire sauce
- Sprinkle thyme over the top and drizzle about 3-4 tbsp of olive oil. Cover with foil and bake for about 1 hour
- Uncover and broil just until the tops caramelize... don't burn it like I did :(
- Let cool slightly before serving
Best eaten that day because the beets start to dye all the other vegetables around it :/
Thanks to Shalom Farms (please visit them if you're in the Richmond area!)
1033 Rock Castle Road
Goochland, VA 23063