Growing Food, Growing Community
I’ve been in Broome County for 20 years now. I grew up about an hour North of here on a farm in a small town near Syracuse, but came to Broome to attend Binghamton University, where I studied philosophy and environmental studies.
VINES, which stands for Volunteers Improving Neighborhood Environments, has been an integral part of my life and a big part of why I decided to come back to the area after my graduate school education.
VINES’ mission is to create a just and sustainable food system, which we do through empowering people of all ages to be able to grow their own food, buy from local farmers and beautify their neighborhoods. Our motto is “Growing Food, Growing Community.” I’ve been involved with VINES at a staff capacity for two and a half years, as the organization’s executive director. I was a part of starting VINES back in 2007 as well and served as a Board member for a number of years.
For the first eight months VINES was starting up, I was in grad school in Boston, but I kept in touch with my friends here who were working on VINES. After I finished graduate school, I came back to New York and worked on a farm in Central NY for the first season VINES was operating. I would come down here for meetings to try to stay in touch and get involved with everything going on in the organization. It was after I finished working on that farm that I seriously considered coming back to Broome County to get a job and help VINES come to fruition – which is exactly what I did. It’s always been my passion to work on urban agriculture and I really loved the idea of working on it here, in this community.
After I graduated from BU in 2002, I stuck around Binghamton for 3 years before going to graduate school and in those few years, I developed very strong connections to the community through the variety of things I had become involved in. The area felt like home at that point, but I had to continue my education. The professional experiences I had before coming back to the area definitely helped me realize I wanted to be here. When I was in graduate school, I did an internship on the Hill in D.C. – I thought I was going to go into federal agriculture policy since my Master’s degree was in Sustainable Agriculture Policy.That experience made me realize federal work was just not my speed. Federal work is very slow and I needed something more locally-based that had more visible impacts made relatively quickly. I also realized I really love engaging with people that can be affected by the work that one can do through a nonprofit – versus the policy end of things where you’re very detached from the populations you’re serving. That was very important to me and what I found in VINES.
I think one of the reasons VINES has been so successful in this community is that the people here are always looking for something more positive to invest their time in, especially at the time we were founded. Ten years ago, when VINES started, the attitude of a lot of folks in the community was very negative. People were just beaten down by the history of our city’s decline, but VINES was – and is – something anyone can be interested in. The way we talk, and think about, our community changes how we see and interact with it. Food and the type of work we do touches everybody’s lives – that’s why I really love working for VINES.
I spent some time working in government, as well as with United Way, but I love the culture of VINES and how it opens up the community. The professionals in Broome, even if they work for different organizations, are all willing to collaborate toward the same end, versus seeing partnership as a competition. People here are willing to share their knowledge and experience to help each other.
Our area’s too small not to build relationships with people from various backgrounds and organizations. There’s too much to get done and just not enough of us.
Through VINES, I get to meet so many different kinds of people that find common ground around food and community, and that’s really special.
Broome County, and our community, is just special.
We’ve got that small town feel with big city amenities. We’ve got dozens of restaurants to go to and there’s always things to do on the weekends or in the evenings. It’s extremely affordable so you don’t have to spend your entire paycheck on housing and then have nothing to put away at the end of the month. One of my favorite parts about our area though is that you can be downtown, take a five minute drive and you’ll be out in the country at a great park, where there’s kayaking, hiking – all of that.This is a good life to me – being able to invest my energy in a purpose that I’m passionate, but also being able to spend time with the people I love and enjoy being outdoors, relaxing, exploring and pursuing my hobbies.
To me, our area is a very ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ type of story. I’ve lived in a small town in Upstate New York. I’ve lived in big cities like Boston and D.C., but Broome County is just right.