Tuesday, March 29, 2016

April 2016 Sustainability Profile: Rebekkah Scharff


Position Title(s):
Director, Sprout Up-Santa Cruz
Seed Librarian, UCSC Food Systems Working Group

What does “sustainability” mean to you?
Sustainability is first and foremost about people. For me, it means preserving cultures, knowledge, and natural resources so that future generations have the same access to them in the future, and can live physically and mentally-healthy lives as a result. Sustainability should be a social movement as much as it is environmental, of sustaining not only environmental but social and cultural livelihoods.

Why did you get involved with sustainability?
After leading field trips at Life Lab for an ENVS internship, I became really interested in organic farming and gardening. After participating in another Life Lab internship at Gault Elementary School, and volunteering with Sprout Up, I decided to completely change my major to environmental studies. I later declared a concentration in agro-ecology, where I found my passion for sustainable agriculture, and issues facing people of color in sustainability. While I have sometimes felt different as a POC in studying food and agriculture, I have found that my voice is important to lend to the significance of food, eating and environmentalism significant to my culture and others’.

How has sustainability related to your role(s) at UCSC?
In my work with the seed library, I help preserve and continue growing crop varieties that are adapted to the Santa Cruz region, and give them away for free, to sustain seed and food sovereignty in the UCSC and Santa Cruz community. In this way, food is sustainable from seed to fork. As the director of Sprout Up-Santa Cruz, one of my roles is training volunteers to be environmental education instructors. After studying how sustainability, especially the sustainable food movement, has so often been a wealthy and privileged movement, I taught this to the instructors as part of their training. In Sprout Up, we reach many low-income students and teach them about environmental sustainability. After studying food and social justice, I realized that many of the things we taught to the kids: waste management, local/non-local food, community gardening, imply very privileged notions of sustainability. I teach instructors to never shame the kids about what practices they do at home, what they eat, and actions beyond their control. I think that this is sustainability: empowering the next generations to be stewards of the environment, as culturally and socially appropriate.

How do you practice sustainability in your daily life?
I teach kids to love and appreciate the earth! (In return, some of them teach me Spanish!) I sustain the next generation of caregivers for the planet, by evoking interest and love for the natural world and healthy food. In addition, I try to listen to people, learn and read as much as I can, about diverse perspectives in the sustainability movement. This includes what I learn from my elementary students, as well as my peers and family. I wish to question and change the discourse of sustainability from making informed individual choices, to sustainable ways of living that different people practice in their own ways.

Have you had a favorite sustainability moment at UCSC?
Once while preparing for a Life Lab field trip at CASFS, my supervisor pulled a kohlrabi out of the ground. I had never seen or heard of a kohlrabi before, let alone tasted it, or so I thought. We prepared and ate it, and it was delicious; I was so stoked about how it looked and tasted. I bought some and brought it home to my parents later, and my mom told me that my grandmother (now 95) used to grow enormous kohlrabis in the backyard of her house, in San Francisco. In addition, she said that I had eaten kohlrabi when she had cooked it, but I had never seen it in the ground or eaten it raw. I realized how disconnected I had been from my Chinese culture’s food in that moment; I didn’t recognize a food I had eaten before, and which was culturally relevant to me. As I continued at UCSC, I realized how food is culture, and how preserving cooking and food is cultural knowledge, which my grandmother passed down to my mom, and her to me.

Are there sustainability practices you’ve picked up specific to your background or culture?
I do not think I have “picked up” specific sustainability practices, but recognized them as sustainability practices themselves, while at UCSC. I realized that learning to cook from my mom and grandmother is sustainability, of preserving food and diet that is not only healthy but cultural, both of which enhance happiness and health. In addition, that my Americanized immigrant family still holds on to their culture overall, by practicing tradition and celebrating holidays, is sustainability. This is especially true of food culture; even when they still love convenient American food, they still prepare their traditional dishes. In addition, my older family’s reliance on herbs and food as medicine is sustainable as well, sustaining the health of their bodies through preventative and holistic methods, and passing this knowledge to the future generations. My mother, grandmother, and aunt all love to garden, which I also learned to value and practice in college. Being disconnected from my family at UCSC, I learned to hold onto and value the food, medicine and traditions of my culture, and also defend them. I cannot count how many times that euro-centric foods like tomatoes and lettuce were labeled as “normal”, while bok choy and napa cabbage were called “crazy” or “different” while attending UCSC, which feels alienating. I think I’ve picked up an appreciation of my culture’s foods and our own sustainability practices, and also the recognition of many different discourses of what sustainability means, some more dominant than others.

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