On Letting Go of Control

By Alexandra Ferrara

RARE has allowed me to meet some really special people. That is all there is to it.

Okay, just kidding. That is a huge part of my experience, but there is some more to it.

Recently, I was having a conversation with one of those special people I met through RARE about painting with watercolors. I mentioned that after spending the past four years of college drafting in a design studio (where EVERY last detail had to be perfect) I started using watercolors to learn to let go of feeling the need to have complete control in my art.

My statement about watercolors sparked a reflection about my life and how I have learned to feel comfortable letting go of control. Like a rush of water, I began recalling all these moments where I let go of the illusion of control I held and received results that were beyond anything that I could ever have expected. Before moving to Oregon, I lived in the same Midwestern town for my entire life. All twenty-two years of it. Applying to RARE, eventually being accepted to RARE, and knowing that I would be moving 2,000 miles away to work for the Independence Downtown Association bred some of those first, serious moments of actively letting go of my desire to control the situation. Thoughts would flow into my head, I would remind myself that it will happen how it happens, and then they would flow back out. This practice has stuck in my life ever since, but not always smoothly.

Quick disclaimer: this anecdote is a dramatized story from my head. On the outside, it probably looked and sounded like everything was perfectly fine. And thinking back on it, it really was not that bad. But for the sake of my point, I am going to tell it anyway.

My first couple of weeks were rough. One of my tasks given from my supervisor was to simply “get out and meet people.” I am not usually one to get out and meet people… if we are being honest here, I am usually one to stay in and avoid people. Because of this, I wasted so much energy on trying to predict what would happen during my first couple attempts of introducing myself to downtown business owners. I expected a certain outcome for a situation that I had no possibility of being able to predict. Quickly I realized that this was hindering my experience. I needed to stop wasting my time with these thoughts. I knew coming into this position that it was going to involve people – communicating with people is a key aspect of Main Street work. And I pursued this position because I wanted to challenge myself, but I was not allowing that to happen. Once I dropped the feeling of needing control, I felt more confident in introducing myself, my conversations started flowing better, and the interactions that I had felt more genuine.

This small and, frankly, silly moment has set the stage for the rest of my experience. In my ability to let go of control, my community has been able to grab hold of opportunities and run with them. And while they are running with them, I am standing by, cheering them on, and being there as a resource, but letting them guide their own interventions. I have learned to embrace the unknown and trusting in myself and my community has made my experiences during RARE incredibly impactful and unforgettable.

A bit about Alexandra Ferrara:

  • Currently serving as a Downtown Manager for Independence Downtown Association
  • Bachelor of Science in Interior Design with a Minor in Urban Studies, Illinois State University, Spring 2017
  • People may be surprised… “I have spent over one hundred hours volunteering during my college spring breaks alone.”

Does community development work interest you?  Are you looking for a life changing experience in rural Oregon?  Learn more about serving with the RARE AmeriCorps Program via our website: https://rare.uoregon.edu/application-process/member-application-process/

Serving Up Food, Community, and Public Health at The Dalles Farmers’ Market

By Kiara Kashuba

On a frosty morning in mid-October, City Park in The Dalles, Oregon, hums with activity as shoppers mosey about the final Farmers’ Market of the season. The air smells rich of soil clumps clinging to root vegetables, delicate baked treats, locally roasted coffee beans, and bouquets of freshly cut dahlias.

Eager to stock up on local produce, meats, cheeses, and other goods before winter sets in, families and neighbors meander about the market stalls, chatting with the region’s farmers and food processors. And it’s not just yuppie white yoga moms, either—The Dalles Farmers’ Market buzzes with a diversity not typically seen at farmers’ markets: people of all ages, sizes, colors, languages, and identities are present.

My booth is near the entrance of the Market. I am sampling a chilled couscous salad decorated with cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers purchased from neighboring produce booths. Part of my position as Food Systems Coordinator with Oregon State University’s Wasco County Extension Service entails public nutrition education and outreach: today, I am offering folks an example of an easy, healthy, and SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps) – budget friendly recipe that they could make with what they purchase at the market.

The Dalles is a tightknit rural community nestled on the Southern bank of the majestic Columbia River Gorge. The hills surrounding the largest town and county seat of Wasco County, Oregon, beam gold with ethereal wheat fields, and cherry orchards dot the landscape (if you’ve ever eaten a maraschino cherry, odds are it came from good ol’ Wasco County!). Yet in a land of such rich agricultural production, food insecurity (the limited or uncertain access to adequate, nutritious food) and diet-related disease affects an unjust percentage of the community. About one third of Wasco County is classified as food insecure, and 38% of children are overweight or obese. Learning hands-on about the intricacies of public health this year has been fascinating. The social determinants of health (academic jargon referring to the external environmental factors bestowed upon an individual at birth that affect one’s health, such as income inequality, access to healthcare and education, proximity to grocery stores, safety of neighborhoods, etc.…) are stacked against many residents in the area, by no fault of their own. But, in the face of adversity, the community of The Dalles truly defines itself by gritting its teeth and tirelessly working together to improve the quality of life for its citizens.

I observed this caring and can-do attitude when The Dalles Farmers’ Market Board (with a little help from ya girl) submitted a grant this winter to fund its first-ever SNAP-match program. If funded, low-income folks could use $10 of EBT funds at the Market and receive $10 in additional tokens to spend on food. Ensuring equitable access to fresh, healthy, and safe foods while supporting the local agricultural economy in the process is paramount to fostering a culture of well-being and resilience in our communities. I am honored to help make this objective a reality through projects like the SNAP-match grant, nutrition outreach, and others.

I chat with passerbys about budget, healthy recipe ideas as I slyly slip a small sample cup of couscous salad into their hands. Some are hesitant to try a new dish at first, but everyone seems to like it. There’s some Wow, this is healthy? But it tastes so good! and Where’s the recipe?! and a few I would totally make this for my family. Several people ask me when I’ll be back again, and even invite me over for dinner (granted I bring some couscous salad). A few mention that they suffer from a diet-related disease and are learning to cook healthier meals to manage it, so I hand them a free farmers’ market-focused cookbook and we go over some of the recipes together.

My time spent with RARE thus far has proven to be incredibly rewarding. Serving rural presents an unparalleled professional development opportunity, and I have no doubt I am positively impacting my community just as they are positively impacting me.

A bit about Kiara Kashuba:

  • Currently serving as a Food Systems Coordinator with Oregon State University Extension Service – Wasco County
  • Bachelor of Arts in Planning, Public Policy and Management with Minors in Food Studies and Environmental Studies, University of Oregon, June 2017
  • People may be surprised… “that I almost went to art school.”

Does community development work interest you?  Are you looking for a life changing experience in rural Oregon?  Learn more about serving with the RARE AmeriCorps Program via our website: https://rare.uoregon.edu/application-process/member-application-process/