Introducing our Full Season Apprentices: Keifer

Keifer relaxes after work with his buddy, Aristotle.

Keifer relaxes after work with his buddy, Aristotle.

My name is, Keifer Russell, and I am from Casper, Wyoming. Aside from this work, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, exercising, and listening to music. I am lucky to be here in what is now my second season of organic farming as I spent the last season in London, Ohio. Finding this path, what I now consider to be my career path, has taken the entirety of my young life. There were signs all along the way that I didn’t see until I looked back, until I started listening more equally to my head and my heart. I will try and explain this path as briefly as I can.

When I first started in college all I really knew was that I wanted to do something health related. At Casper College, a community college in my home town, I earned an Associate’s Degree in Athletic Training as well as one in Physical Education. Neither of these programs really reached me and upon graduating I took the next two years off. I had already been working construction while attending school but the two years of full time work that followed, for many, many reasons, motivated me to go back to school. I felt I owed it to myself but also, more than anything, I wanted to enjoy the work I did, to have a sense of purpose. I decided to apply for the Kinesiology and Health Promotion program at the University of Wyoming. I didn’t like the limitations of completing either of my original degree paths and was hoping to have more options upon graduating. Thankfully I was accepted and began to become genuinely interested in the field of public health and of preventative health efforts. I was especially motivated to pursue this course when I began to learn more about the incredible disparities of our time and of the idea of undeserved power and privilege.

I believe that a majority of our world’s health problems stem from unequal access to resources (food, health, justice, etc.). In a world where it seems that anything can be bought and sold, those who have the money have the ability to buy food, health and justice. In our country, as evidence shows, the vast majority of wealth, and therefore access, is in the hands of a few. This is the exact opposite of justice and, as a result, we are faced with the enormous disparities that plague us today. I have enjoyed a great deal of power and privilege in my own life and have come to realize that some of which, perhaps more than I will ever know, has been unearned. Being a heterosexual, middle-class, white male makes me part of the dominant class in our society. It should be no surprise then that I am in good health. Realizing this, learning that to remain neutral is to side with the oppressor and not the oppressed, I decided I had to find a career path which allowed me to give back for the unfair advantage I have had. In pursuit of such work, I took an internship at a Public Health office and worked under the Public Health Response Coordinator for roughly two school years. While this was a very interesting position and taught me a lot, what it taught me more than anything was that I did not have the patience for the pace of government and was simply not happy sitting at a desk. Luckily for me, my search within my major for everything public health lead me to take a Food, Health & Justice course (Hints my repeated use of the phrase). In learning about the food system, in working in community gardens, I found what I knew in my heart to be my path.

Food system work has provided me the much needed hope and optimism in the field of social reform. I am very attracted to the hands-on, community-level nature of the work itself, along with the quick positive return. This is certainly not to say that community gardens or organic growing operations are fool-proof, but rather that such projects can, in my mind, be undertaken with lower cost and greater ease than projects in other areas of social change. Also, there is a myriad of potential positive benefits to this type of work which include: Increased food access/availability (esp. healthy, sustainable, fresh, tasty food), social support, physical activity, stress relief, education, fulfillment of civic duty, positive role modeling, preservation of open space and natural systems, and the strengthening of local communities, economies, and food system defense. These co-occurring benefits to food system reform essentially improve the wellness of a community’s members. Wellness refers to overall well-being and incorporates the mental, emotional, physical, occupational, intellectual, and spiritual aspects of a person’s life.

This work is also is a nice reminder of the construction work aspects that I actually do miss and an even better reminder of why I went back to school. In many ways this work is brand new for me, despite the countless hours I’ve spent shoveling. While I did help to “build” some important infrastructure in my day, none of which, nor the total amount of which, could equal the importance and the satisfaction of the outcome of this shoveling. Being involved in this sort of food production was a first for me, as I barely remember the gardens we had when I was younger. Not only do I have my hands in the actual production of healthy, organic, sustainable foods, but I have my hands in social change as well. This farm, this food, is a challenge to current social norms, many of which I feel are flawed. Working to feed someone, to change my community, to change our relationship to the natural world and to change not just the food system but the whole system, brings a reward that is, for me, more satisfying than any pay check I have ever earned. Though minimal, my food system experience and knowledge gained have given me great hope that I might be able to not only do what I love for a living, but to do so for the sake of the greater good.

While I may have stumbled into this work, that certainly does not mean I take it lightly. I like to think that my food system reform beliefs are founded in unbiased, undeniable scientific evidence. As it turns out, and despite the claims of conventional agriculture, small scale, organic farming is the best option for feeding the world as it produces competitive yields in a healthy, sustainable way while also supporting local communities and cultures. Organic systems also produce a more diverse array of food and nutrients and are better positioned to produce yields in adverse conditions, which are sure to come given global warming and the global fight for water. What I also like about this movement is that it reminds us to think about food in terms other than just production. Our goal should be not just feeding the world, but feeding the world well—returning as much as we take in order to ensure our future.

In summary, I took this position to continue my journey to find my place in the closing of the inequality gap. The more I learn, the more I see, the further I push myself outside of my own bubble, the more I feel that I truly am either part of the problem or part of the solution. “If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.” ~Lyndon B. Johnson.

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