Coming Back Home
How Working for Edible Omaha Changed my Life
By Emily Beck | Photography by Victor Grössling
I used to want to tell other people’s stories. I used to think I would live through the experiences of those far more interesting than me. But after being inspired so many times, I realized that I don’t just want to write about what “interesting” people do. I want to do those things myself.
As a dreamy 16-year-old, I went to national journalism conferences where journalists talked to roomfuls of equally idealistic high schoolers about their craft. Photographers talked about the exhilaration of capturing “the moment,” designers about color and the magic of white space, social media experts about the uncertainty of the newest frontier, reporters about the importance of being able to write, shoot and edit under deadline. They usually talked about being broke, and I embraced the nobility of that, the idea of doing a job so vital to our democracy that it didn’t pay squat, and not caring. I thought myself noble enough to pursue a profession that could truly “make a difference.” I planned to eat, breathe and sweat journalism––and for two years, I pretty much did. I was an editor for Omaha Central High School’s newspaper, The Register, for two years, spending 15 hours per week in the dank underbelly of the building, designing and putting together the paper with managing staff writers and photographers. It was my pride and joy. I probably took it a bit too seriously.
During my time at Central, I was an intern for this magazine you’re reading right now. I spent Saturday mornings in the office with co-publishers Amy and Lucy, who talked to me constantly about food security, the food system and the importance of local eating and living. They were my first teachers of sustainability and food; they taught me to ask where my food comes from and to care about it and the people who grow it. They gave me produce from their gardens, let me write stories and choose photos for their beautiful magazine and introduced me to additional inspiring people who would change my life.
In August 2015, the summer after my first year of college, I wrote about Betsy Goodman, who farmed on rented land in Iowa’s Loess Hills. Our interview lasted three hours, during which we collected and saved seeds and talked over the bugs that grew louder as the sun set––about the connectedness of everything, about fighting for the right to control our own food system instead of relying on big businesses to, about seeds and learning to recognize and appreciate the farmer that saves them year after year. I think that was the moment that, deep inside, I stopped wanting to write and started wanting to live. Although I wouldn’t realize it until later, that was the night I decided I needed to become a farmer.
When I started college at Indiana University in Bloomington, I had to coax myself to start writing for the Indiana Daily Student, IU’s student newspaper. I was burnt out from those two years of nobility and reluctant to give myself over so completely to something new. By my second year I had a job as a beat reporter, squeezing in three stories per week on top of 16 credit hours and a work-study job. It didn’t take long to realize all I wanted to write about was food and farmers. I was on the environment beat, writing nothing hard-hitting; one of my favorite stories was about a kids’ cooking class at a local food pantry; another was about an apple tasting at the farmers market. I always gravitated toward the market, and the farmers there. I read In Defense of Food, The Dirty Life, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Farmacology. The things I had learned while working at Edible Omaha suddenly became very real to me, and I became infatuated with the idea of hard days spent out in the sun, being the caretaker of an ecosystem, the miracle of decomposition and the overall circle of life. Where I had once been so certain in my future career as a journalist, I grew wobbly and finally allowed myself to fall. Because I wanted to.
People always say that you change your mind in college. Sometimes you change it too late, and you end up going hungry––starved of learning what you actually wanted to know. School has taught me that you can only truly learn by doing. It’s useless to dream all day about doing something you think you want to do; you’ll never really know if it’s meant for you until you do it yourself. And so, I’m eager to throw myself into the toil of farm life, but the inconveniences of school and limited money and time currently block me from diving in completely.
Right now, I serve as a garden intern at a nonprofit called Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, a combination food pantry and educational center that manages gardens, holds cooking classes and workshops, hosts a tool share program and, overall, fights for food security in Bloomington, Indiana. I get to feed worms, save seeds, manage pests, plant and harvest produce from the garden, stock the pantry, shovel compost and work with wonderful people who get just as distracted as I do upon finding critters rooting around in soil. Right now, I’m learning slowly, collecting bits of knowledge I hope will help me when, one day, I do get to dive in. And I’m scouring the Internet, flipping through magazines, grilling all my connections for referrals to help me find a farm to work at this summer that will begin to teach me the trade, and kick my butt.
Without Edible Omaha, I’m not sure I would be on this same trajectory. It’s funny how something that seemed a minor thread––Saturday mornings spent in an office with two women passionate about what they believe in––ended up being woven so deeply into this weird knitted sweater that is my life. It’s because they made me see, and after I grew up, their passion became mine. I will always be grateful to Amy and Lucy, and to this magazine and everything it represents.
Emily Beck is currently studying environmental and sustainability studies at Indiana University in Bloomington and dreaming of the day she can keep her own chickens. And goats. And bees.