Erica Letson is a UVM Food Systems graduate who currently works as an Americorps member for Bronco Urban Gardens in Santa Clara, CA as a Garden Education Coordinator.
After studying abroad in Oaxaca, Mexico during my sophomore year at UVM, I knew I wanted a career in sustainable food systems. Throughout my time in Mexico, I saw firsthand the negative effects globalized agriculture has on developing countries, but even more importantly I saw how small scale farming could really help bring communities together. There is one instance in particular which took place in a small village outside of Oaxaca City during one of my homestays. As a community project, a group of women from this village decided that we would all plant trees as a way of preserving the deteriorating landscape in the area. This one day, we planted over 30 different trees. Although this reforestation project would only affect this small community, I was really moved by the grassroots efforts that these women had taken to help better their village. This opportunity really changed the way I viewed social justice, and helped to facilitate my career choices in the future.
After this experience, I made a point to become more involved with the local food issues in my community and began interning for the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) of Vermont as an outreach intern. During my time with NOFA, I worked on a project that measured the economic benefits several farmers’ markets have on their surrounding communities. As a part of this study, I worked directly with farmers’ market managers and vendors to coordinate each evaluation. This was a great opportunity to get to know other members of Vermont’s local food network. I also started taking more classes related to sustainable agriculture, such as permaculture, agroecology, and soil science. These classes, along with many others, have helped me to develop a well-rounded environmental background, offering both social and scientific perspectives.
Each of my education and internship experiences have helped prepare me for the job I’m in now. I am working as an Americorps member for the Silicon Valley Health Corps at a nonprofit organization in Santa Clara, CA, called Bronco Urban Gardens. As a Garden Education Coordinator, I work directly with community members and create relationships with parents and teachers to gain support for our organization and the schools we work with. In addition, I teach elementary school children in at risk communities the basics of gardening and nutrition. I am designing and planning a new garden at one of the schools I teach for as well. This job has been extremely rewarding and I have gained a lot of experience learning how to effectively run an education program. I have learned that my passion is to work with children and teach them about food and environmental issues. I attribute my education at UVM for helping me choose this path, and I am very grateful for the opportunities I have had thus far.