I chose to join the Desert Farming Initiative as a Food Systems Development AmeriCorps member in order to learn more about food security, sustainable agriculture, and healthy food systems. My interest in these topics began in 2019 during my service as a Peace Corps Mongolia health education volunteer. During my service, I started thinking about the connections between sustainable agriculture, environmental health, and public health, which led me to pursue work in environmental conservation, organic farming, and most recently food systems development. My position with DFI has allowed me to gain a greater understanding of food insecurity, climate-smart agriculture, food production, produce safety, and what goes into supporting the sustainability, health, and equitable distribution of a food system. After spending 8 months on the DFI team, I have answered many of the questions I was asking in 2019. And, I have new questions and confidence that I will take with me into my next adventure. 

My time at DFI began last year in December 2021. I drove cross-country from Vermont, where I was on the Shelburne Farms Market Garden Field Crew (If you are ever in Vermont, please go for a hike at Shelburne Farms and get some snacks from their farm store). I arrived in Reno a bit nervous but excited to meet the DFI team, learn all about four-season farming in the desert, and enjoy a new adventure. At the time, DFI was growing a lot of delicious winter greens in their hoop houses. To this day, my favorite combo of DFI greens are the mustard greens, tatsoi, and tokyo bekana. I loaded up on those winter greens every week - enthusiastically exercising my right as a staff member to free veggies. During wintertime, I also got to be part of DFI’s strategic planning process. This meant that I saw and participated in the evolution of DFI’s goals and priorities as an organization. And, I was given the opportunity to create my own goals for my service, which I have since achieved. However, what took up most of my time was learning DFI’s food production and produce safety processes, understanding my role as the lead for DFI volunteer involvement, keeping everything straight while going on deliveries, getting savvy with DFI’s social media and marketing strategies, and more! After this initial learning curve, I entered spring ready for new challenges.

Once spring rolled around, I began working with DFI’s Farm to Food Pantry partners to distribute fresh produce to the Reno community; I coordinated weekly communications with and deliveries to Pack Provisions and Community Health Alliance. In this role, I got to see every step involved in moving DFI’s produce to partner food pantries, such as growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, and distribution. I also learned more about how food pantries and food banks source and distribute their fresh regional produce. Around this time, I also began working with a state-wide team to implement SNAP-Ed programming at farmer’s markets, develop outreach materials, and gather community/stakeholder feedback. This experience exposed me to U.S. federal nutrition assistance programs and introduced me to what Nevada is doing to address food and nutrition insecurity. As a whole, my Food Systems Development role at DFI allowed me to participate in or observe most processes of a food system: growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting, marketing, consumption, distribution, and disposal of food items. Throughout my service at DFI, I was thankful to receive such an in-depth education on the Northern Nevada food system.  

            From December to April, with support from the DFI team, I utilized this new knowledge and my past experiences to apply for the Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellowship. In May, I received an invitation to join the 29th class of Emerson Fellows! Here is description of the fellowship: “The goal of the Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellowship is to develop effective leaders in the movement to end hunger in the U.S. by placing them with organizations that focus on addressing the root causes of hunger and poverty, as well as approaching their work through a racial equity lens. Emerson Fellows are placed with community-based organizations across the country as well as policy-focused organizations in Washington, D.C. Fellows support partner organizations with program development, research, evaluation, outreach, organizing, and advocacy projects.” I know that I was able to achieve this goal due to the wonderful experience I gained at DFI and the never-ending support of the DFI team. Beginning in August, this fellowship will be the perfect next step for me!

            My last season at DFI was summertime. As most reading this will know, summer gets super hot in Reno. But DFI was ready - we stocked up on electrolytes and popsicles for the hottest of days. Summertime also brought farmer’s markets! Around May, DFI began a partnership with the Fernley Poolside Farmer’s Market to support their “SNAP Shopper Friendliness”. Basically, throughout June I staffed a booth at the Fernley Poolside Farmer’s Market where I shared free recipes and information about nutrition, SNAP/EBT, DUFB, Senior and WIC FMNP coupons, and more. I was also there to support the market manager with SNAP/EBT and DUFB transactions and provide marketing materials as-needed. Before partnering with the Fernley Poolside Farmer’s Market, I took turns with UNR Extension in staffing a similar booth at the Winter Riverside Farmers Market. I thoroughly enjoyed working at both markets!

I am so thankful to have been given this opportunity with DFI. From the very beginning, I felt welcomed, accepted, and taken care of by the team. Outside of work, as well, they supported me in getting to know Reno and in navigating various mishaps - I locked myself out, my car wouldn’t start in winter, I got COVID near the end of my service, and my wallet was stolen. So many mishaps occurred, but it was never that bad because I knew I had everyone at DFI. In summary, I made so many friends, learned a bunch, and laughed a lot! That is all I could ask for :)

Bunyan, A. 2022, Allison Bunyan Completes AmeriCorps Service!, Desert Farming Initiative - University of Nevada, Reno

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