Hungry Girl Explores Local Food in Indiana

Bike FarmI keep getting asked, “Did you hate it there? Are you transferring?” and this one in a hushed tone, “Were you kicked out?!” 

So here’s setting the record straight, and then some. 

My name is Brenda, and I’m an undergrad at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, where I am equally enamored with the college and the state. I have every intention of receiving a Brown diploma.

So why am I here?

At the end of the year, I felt I’d taken a lot of great classes that were stimulating and interesting, but that did not necessarily better me as a student. I didn’t feel like I was building up to anything, and perhaps I just wasn’t choosing (or didn’t know how to choose) the classes best suited for my growth.

To give you an idea of my academic schedule, I was balancing a music history class called “Beethoven,” a religion studies class, “Death and the Afterlife,” a studio foundation course, and two upper-level classes: one, a Latin translation course covering the works of Roman poet Catullus, and the other, a seminar for my other major, Environmental Studies, aptly named “Sustenance and Sustainability: Exploring the Nexus of Agro-Food Systems, Society, and the Environment.” Extraordinarily engaging and beautiful to behold (I have not one ounce of regret), but I admit, not exactly the sort of variety that can be sustained when one is trying to make it in one concentration.

When I really thought about it, the system of getting a degree before investigating career paths just doesn’t make sense for me, personally. I don’t want to guess what kind of job I want after college or guess which degree today will best prepare me in the future. So, I thought that if I could switch things up and thrust myself into new, unfamiliar territory, I’d have a bigger chance of developing my goals.

I chose food because of my environmental studies professor last semester, Kathy DeMaster, who grew up on a small farm that fell victim to big agribusinesses’ “get big or get out” campaign. I chose food because this summer I had the opportunity to teach a high school class devoted to examining food justice issues in Providence. I also chose food because I am a hungry, hungry girl. My family is from Indianapolis, and I find Indiana to be a terribly exciting place for local food movements. Enter Bloomingfoods and the Local Growers Guild, which have enthusiastically taken me under their metaphorical wings. This fall, you’ll find me in the Bloomingfoods administration office, hoarding up on fresh veggies at the Kirkwood and Near West stores, and bringing wonderful people together to replicate a Bike Farm we built at Brown last spring.

I am fortunate to be young and excited in a time where, although I think about maybe twenty different things when grocery shopping (food miles, E. coli, fair trade, pesticides, animal rights – not even mentioning price), today, a New York Times headline reported that the FDA was finally taking steps to limit antibiotic usage in factory farming, and today, I found out that a significant percentage of the growing number of small farmers in Rhode Island is made up of my fellow Brown students – college-educated people who use the incredible privileges they’ve been given to repair our broken food system in tangible ways.

More and more, because I’ve taken this leap of faith, I’ve found I’d like to be one of those people. Wish me luck this semester!


Brenda Zhang is working on a number of projects, including a Bike Farm, as she interns  for Bloomingfoods and the Local Growers Guild.