Texas at the Table: Part One.

Skinning and plucking our dinner on Day One.

And So it Begins, with Five Fearless Feather-Pluckin’ Females:

at the Table in Waco, TX

Whilst in Waco, we – the lovely ladies of the Texas at the Table: Project Go Road Trip – harvested and gleaned both vegetables and stories with dirty-fingernail-ed farm-hands and business-suited theological-thinkers. Waco is the first stop on the Texas at the Table Road Trip to explore how people across Texas creatively address hunger in their communities – or more simply, exploring where food comes from, who gets it, and who doesn’t.

the World Hunger Relief Farm.

Day 0.5 (the evening of our first gathering – thus not the legitimate Day One in my play-book): The much arrival happens. Five fearless ladies convene – with parental units – on the World Hunger Relief Farm in Waco, TX. The parents step out of their comfortably AC-ed vehicles to be hit brazenly in the face by the Farm – the heat, the smell. Welcome. The gals are starting to question what they’ve gotten themselves into. And perhaps, so are their leaders. All meet and greet each other awkwardly. A short tour of the Farm is given – complete with instructions that this is a flush-free farm (only composting toilets) and the home they will be staying in does not have running water or electricity. Parents leave reluctantly – they have left their daughters to the care of a lady with a lip-loop and nose-ring and the other one has tattoos . . . Introductory awkwardness subsides and its dinnertime. Except that dinner must first be harvested. Kale. Swiss chard. Onions. Peppers. (Supplemented with Bethel’s peanut sauce and rice). This dinner is a strange experience (in addition to the heat and composting toilets) because: 1. These gals never really cook; and 2. They don’t ever really eat vegetables. Whataburger seems to be a staple dinner. Bethel (the leader with tattoos and braids – and also the leader with tattoos) begins to worry . . .

Sunflowers for CSA harvest at the World Hunger Relief Farm.

Day One: No rest for the weary – or the farmer. Devotions at the Farm start at 7am. Lucas Land Truett grad and former Farm intern – leads a discussion of personal heresies and the Bible. Work chores are handed out. Most farm folks are working the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) harvest – the Farm supplies 60 families in the Waco-area with a week’s worth of fresh vegetables for 8 months a year, on a subscription basis. CSA is just one model of direct-to-consumer farm marketing allowing farmers to know that what is planted has a home once out of the field, creating a relationship between farmers and those who eat the food the farmer grows. All that to say, the Go Now-ers jumped into harvesting bouquets of basil, counting cucumbers and eventually bundling sunflowers for shares. After moving the chickens in their portable coop-mobiles, designed to rotate the chickens to fresh pasture – which leads to eggs richer in beta-carotene and omega 3 and 6 fats, all part of a healthy, balanced diet. After a farm-family lunch, Farmer Jes talked with the gals about raw milk as the gals washed eggs freshly collected from our clucking lady-friends. The Farm manages a Grade A Raw Goat Milk dairy – containing the healthy bacteria that aids in digestion for even those who are lactose-intolerant.

the Lorena stove over which our meal was cooked.

Without a siesta, the real work for the day begins. Making dinner. From scratch. Over a wood-burning Lorena stove. Without running water. With meat that must be caught and killed before eaten. This is no simple task for five young ladies not used to cooking, let alone with modern day appliances – and in the heat of the day. Two roosters were caught by Dani and Chelsea, who were brave enough to volunteer for the slaughter.

An education in chicken butchering with farmers Lucas and Bethel.

Necks were slit (albeit with a dull knife) and the birds were bled out and plucked, while the rest of the gals gathered garden vegetables and pumped water from a well. Four hours later, a simple meal of chicken and rice with greens was prepared and placed on the table for all to eat. Delicious to all except those still smelling chicken feathers beneath their nails. With bellies brimming with fresh eats and tasty meats, the gals ended their evening with a showing of Food, Inc. – posing even more questions in already wearied and worried minds.

Our made-from-scratch meal at the Farm.

Day Two: Rising with the sun in time for devotions at the Farm, all are a bit slower than Day One. Yet the gals are able to drag themselves to a meeting with Beth Kilpatrick and Jeremy Everett of the Texas Hunger Initiative – aiming to end hunger in Texas by 2015 through collaborative community organizing. Jeremy shared about the role of grassroots organizing hand-in-hand with political advocacy in ending hunger in communities – while highlighting Gospel passages to inform the work we do. Beth also shared a clip from Rush Limbaugh and his comments about the federal Summer Feeding Program which provides a free meal to youth ages 18 and under, covering the gap in the free and reduced lunch program that continues throughout the school year. Please listen to the clip – and share your own comments.

Summer meal site in East Waco.

After those parting words from Rush, Jeremy and Beth, we ventured to Wesley United Methodist Church in East Waco to experience a summer feeding site firsthand. We met with Reverend Valda Jean Combs and a representative from the Waco ISD Nutrition Program. Waco is a unique place when it comes to summer feeding – Waco ISD writes the program into the budget, ensuring that a number of trained cafeteria workers are employed throughout summer to deliver hot meals to the summer feeding sites throughout the city. Host sites need only open their doors. Wesley UMC is unique in that Reverend Valda has organized a summer day camp in addition to providing transportation to the church. In an effort to encourage families to eat together, the McLennan County Hunger Coalition subsidizes adults to eat with their children.

Hot lunch provided by Waco ISD at Summer Feeding Site.

From Wesley UMC, we met with Phylixcia Moore and her uncle Vernon Clark to discuss the role of urban agriculture in providing healthy, nutritious food in communities experiencing supermarket redlining as well as increased rates of diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. Phylixcia is now a sophomore at Prairie View A&M studying agriculture. While in high school, she headed the garden at Carver Park Baptist Church in East Waco, selling produce to the church for community meals as well as donating to food pantries. After Phylixcia had shared her story, her uncle Vernon asked a large question of the Go Now gals: How is the work you are doing and seeing maintaining poverty or attempting to resolve it? This question helped frame a number of the projects we were to encounter on the road.

From East Waco, we trekked to a variety of gardens throughout Waco – at churches and at schools – as I, Bethel, shared about my work as an agrarian social worker with the Heart of Texas Urban Gardening Coalition. We stopped at Homestead Heritage, another Christian farm in the area, for ice cream (my favorite being sorghum pecan) before heading back to the Farm to make pizza with farm fresh ingredients and resting before hitting the road to Lubbock.

Making pesto for pizza with fresh-gathered basil.

End Day Two. End Part One.

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