31
Jan
2012
DAVID PECUSA

SERVICE MEMBER, FOODCORPS

David is the Edible School Garden Instructor for a FoodCorps site in Tuba City, Arizona, a Native American community on the Navajo reservation. The Edible School Garden and Community Visioning Project are two efforts initiated by the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health to promote healthy living and to combat diabetes and childhood obesity. David and his team work with about 150 3rd-5th graders to implement a curriculum on horticulture basics and nutrition, both of which meet state requirements for math and science. The curriculum also invites community members to join the classroom and provide added instruction as cultural teachers. In the garden, they are currently adding more raised beds and just finished building a hoop house. Needless to say, they are cultivating much more than just vegetables. To learn more about the work that David and others do with FoodCorps, visit http://foodcorps.org/.

When did you know that you wanted to work in food?

My ‘aha’ moment was when I was about  10 years old when I cooked scrambled eggs for a weekend breakfast. I felt accomplished and the whole family enjoyed it.

How did you get your current good food job?

I was sent several e-mails from friends who were former Americorps members, from folks that I took a permaculture design course with, and from former apprentice class mates from UC Santa Cruz. After looking at the website and finding that a service site was located in my own back yard, I gave it a shot. I thought I would have a good chance getting the “job” as I felt like FoodCorps would like to have Native American individuals apply, who knew the culture and people. I would like to see more Native Americans apply, as many of the concepts FoodCorps wants to get across in the schools and communities are in our (native) cultures. I feel that the diverse range of tribal people of this country have a great amount of knowledge concerning food and agriculture unique to each environment, if only the dominant culture would ask us how we lived and took care of this land.

How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?

My chosen career path after high school was in the food service industry, starting out as a dishwasher working my up to head cook. I returned home to the Hopi Reservation getting a job with the elementary school I attended as kitchen manager. There I saw what sort of “cooking” schools were doing: opening cans, boxes, ready-made meals that looked like plastic. That’s when I attempted to change the practices in the school kitchen.

What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream?

After being in the school system for a couple of years the challenge I saw was getting fresh,quality food into the school. Just because schools on the reservation are very rural and rely on the Free and Reduced School Lunch Program and USDA commodities. Things like the Farm to School program were just getting started around the country. I decided to quit my job and a make a leap to working on farms and gardens. I was accepted at the UCSC Farm and Garden Apprenticeship program in Santa Cruz, California. After completion of the program I returned to the reservation to see if I could implement what methods I learned to inspire others to grow “good” food. When FoodCorps was accepting applications, I saw this as perfect fit.

What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?

I think the greatest opportunity is being a facilitator between school kitchens and the farms, food vendors and community. It would be hugely beneficial if the schools, especially reservation schools, had a full time person to understand the policies and the processes needed to get good food in their kitchens.

If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?

I would love to be compensated with a sense of place, community, and good food!

Still have burning questions about the FoodCorps program? Ask them here.