I’m guessing that not everyone loves program evaluation as much as I do, and I get it. Trying to track your program’s impact is no easy task, especially when it’s just one more thing that you’re being asked to do on top of implementing the program in the first place. In that sense I’m lucky. As a Program Evaluation Intern working with Rainier Valley Eats!, my main focus is helping to capture the impact of the amazing work that’s already being done. It’s true that sometimes the work isn’t glamorous; as much as I love spreadsheets, data entry is not that thrilling. But sometimes the work is awesome, fulfilling, and even delicious.
For the past several months, Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands has been hosting the East African Senior Farming Project as part of a RaVE mini-grant. Every Friday East African elders work alongside staff and interns at the farm, preparing, planting, and harvesting fresh, healthy produce, some of which they take home at the end of the day. As part of evaluation efforts, I have spent several of the past Fridays talking with the elders during a tasty lunch, which they have prepared, about the effects of being involved with the farm. What they have shared with me has been inspiring, encouraging, and yes, delicious.
While participants were eating green vegetables before starting their work at the farm, they told me (through a group member who acted as an interpreter) that they are now doing so more frequently. They are using fresh produce in their senior meal program at Yesler Community Center at least twice a week, and one elder stated that if for some reason he returns home from the farm without freshly harvested produce, his family jokingly gives him a hard time and asks why he’s arriving empty-handed. Another elder laughingly said that her children are teasing her and saying that she is getting younger because she is eating so well. These conversations were filled with joy, and as one elder explained, daily life in an unfamiliar culture can sometimes feel isolating, but at the farm “there is no depression.” All of the elders reflected the sentiment that for them the program is about exercising, eating well, and community. As one of the project’s East African leaders summed up, “This is about sharing our culture. It doesn’t matter if you are Ethiopian, African-American, or Caucasian. We all eat.” We hope that the work of RaVE helps to expand this sentiment throughout our community; we all eat, and let’s work together to make sure that we are all able to eat in ways that nourish both our bodies and our spirits.