Building Relationships Among Beets

by Jolie Olivetti
August 01, 2012

Image of Jolie Olivetti

Jolie Olivetti is Farm Manager of ReVision Urban Farm, an innovative community located near Boston, MA. It is dedicated to opening doors to recovery and hope for individuals and families facing homelessness and living with addiction and other chronic illnesses. Since HRC last spoke with them, their farmland has doubled in size. They have a new greenhouse, a new terrace, and a new farm stand on Blue Hill Avenue, an impoverished area of Boston. The organization provides not only recovery services and shelter, but also the opportunity for people to rediscover healthy ways of eating food, growing vegetables, and rebuilding confidence. Jolie reflects on her role and shares insights about vegetables to the meaning of her work.

My favorite vegetable? Well, I usually say that I love beets. They are easy to plant. They are grown directly seeded and are fun to grow, fun to harvest, and fun to eat. You pull them right out of the ground. It’s a longer crop. It takes 50 to 55 days to grow, and the growing season runs from April to October. They are versatile. You can eat them raw or cooked, and I think they are delicious.

Part of the beauty of farming is being able to show people where food comes from. Many of the individuals and families who come to our farm have long histories of gardening, while others are gardening for the first time. This is a community of revision, so we share cuisines from all over the world. The work of our shelter is to develop meaningful relationships with individuals and families. At the farm, we are just as much a part of that goal. Working side-by-side while farming is a great conversation starter.

My background is in environmental education and, through working here, my views on homelessness have really changed. All I knew before came from the media, my observations, and volunteering. I have learned that homelessness is not a permanent condition, but rather, that people experience homelessness. It is about stable and safe housing, and it is about poverty. Most people who experience homelessness are not in that situation because of just one thing, and it is not the first thing you should know about someone. It is not an identity.

The young people I work with in the garden have had a significant impact on me. Many of the children between ages 5 and 11 take a real shine to the farm. It is like a dream for them—an exciting place, especially if they like to get dirty. They have so many questions about what we are doing. When a young person calls out to us and shouts out, “What are you doing?”, I may feel I don’t have time to answer because my task list is so long. But I have realized that the most important thing I can do is to make time to answer, because the most important thing that I am doing is supporting and interacting with the young people who are with us.

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