By Vivian Cheung, Operations & Digital Engagement Specialist

As you may know, 2023 marks the 10th anniversary of the partnership between Fresh Roots and the Vancouver School Board, the creation and the stewardship of the schoolyard farm at Vancouver Technical Secondary School. For this important year, we look forward to exciting special events to celebrate this milestone with the community. We also wanted to use this year to reflect and return back to our roots by bringing folks throughout these ten growing seasons who have helped shaped Fresh Roots to be where we are today, as staff, teachers, participants, while also taking the chance to celebrate who they are today since Fresh Roots. As a former 2016 intern, my name is Vivian and I’m on a journey to reconnect with these rad members in our Fresh Roots community and bring us all on a blast from the past in this new 10th Anniversary blog interview series called ‘Back to Our Roots’.

We’re back for another interview! If you missed my previous interview with Gray, check it out here. Similar to myself, Jenny was a former intern in 2015 and later continued on to be the Youth Program Coordinator at Fresh Roots. She holds a BSc in Global Resource Systems and currently works at St. John’s College at UBC, working with students on community-engaged projects relating to Chinese Canadian history and heritage. I recall meeting Jenny during my internship and was immediately drawn in by her inviting and wise presence, as well as her stellar blogs, which you can still find our website – check them out:

Welcome Jenny! I’ll start with the classic Fresh Roots question, ‘What vegetable do you feel like today?’ 

I feel kind of like mashed potato with garlic because I feel a bit mashed up. It’s been so full and busy but there’s a bit of kick and zing from the garlic.

Tell me about journey to and with Fresh Roots. How did you get connected? 

I basically learned about Fresh Roots through the GRS program. It stands for Global Resources program and it’s a Bachelor of Science program under the Faculty of Land and Food Systems. A bunch of Fresh Roots people came through it, like Ilana did the program and so did Ros and Winnie. Whether Ilana did a presentation in GRS class, or she posted the internship on our Facebook group, it was the second year Fresh Roots was doing summer internships and I had wanted to get some hands-on experience in farming and organic agriculture, specifically because I had been studying about it at school and in my courses. I got the theory but never had that hands-on experience of what it is actually like day-to-day. That’s what motivated me to sign up for the internship. 

It was 2015, spring into fall, me and the other interns were working with Scott Bell, who was the farm manager back then. That was really fun and it really made me appreciate farming so more. It’s actually a lot of hard work but through that experience, I got to work with a lot of volunteers, SOYL students, and people in the community. It was the next summer that I met you in the next internship cohort. I really enjoyed the connections that doing food systems work facilitated and learning about people’s stories and recipes and whatnot. I really gravitated more towards the human aspect of that work.

What’s the story behind your intern Fresh Roots blogs. How did those come to be? 

I did directed studies as a part of my internship and usually for directed studies, we need to write a report at the end. soy program. I chatted with Ilana about it, and we figured out something with my program to allow me to do like a weekly blog post instead. That would become my ongoing reflection of internship. I actually enjoyed writing those!

Any internship stories and highlights you want to share? 

We spent a lot of time weeding, so overall, just having really good conversations with the other interns, Scott, or when Marc and Ilana come out, and with volunteers. It’s a really nice time just sitting there weeding, chatting about ourselves. That was always a really nice experience. 

For growing, planting and harvesting garlic was also a huge highlight for me because I grew up with garlic but never knew garlic takes like nine months to grow. And then it’s like this whole big thing where you pull it out together and you clean it and string it up. That was always a highlight in the summer. I got some Fresh Roots garlic to plant in my own garden and kept that up for three or four years, like using that same feed in a very small batch. It was always a nice thing to do and it tasted so good. 

There were a few days where it was just pouring rain. One or two days, we called it off, but there was one day where we still farmed and then everyone was soaking wet. So that day, we did a team potluck or like an end of year celebration thing at Marc and Ilana’s house. All of us got to their house soaking, and then we took turns like taking a hot shower, drying our clothes in their dryer. We definitely had some good potlucks where you’d go around everyone would share what you’ve made. That was super fun. I remember Ros made like avocado fries once and that’s very interesting (don’t try and make avocado fries for the first time for a potluck!) 

What about after your internship? What was your role at Fresh Roots? 

After the internship ended, in 2016, I worked with the Windermere School Garden. Marc knew the teacher there who was doing the leadership program and had some extra funding, so he reached out to see if they needed support with the garden. So, I worked with some of his leadership students to get the garden growing again. We sold some food at Collingwood Neighbourhood House during summer for a weekly food market stand. 

I also got to work as the Fresh Roots person with the Garden Club at Van Tech and David Thompson. We did food literacy programming, like cooking workshops and some planting which at the time, was very intimidating, like, “Oh my goodness. I’m on my own with these high school students!”. But they’re all really sweet and really talented and bright so, it was really fun. 

I spent some time working off some hours, doing field trips and volunteers. Also, helping out with communications and outreach, including social and making graphics for one of the campaigns. When I was working off hours, one other thing I did was I helped with some of the CSA delivery. At the time, the farm manager was Charlotte Konkin and I would meet her at the ICC. I would help Charlotte, you, and the other interns finish bagging and processing things, pack everything into totes, and drive the big van to all the different pick-up spots. That was my only experience driving a big van and it was cool. You know, you experienced the farming card and the educational part. Then now, you get to experience the distribution part. 

Any memorable community members during your journey? 

There are some regulars at Collingwood Neighbourhood House. I remember there’s this auntie called Mimi, who would bring her grandkids and she gave us free goji berries from her garden. It’s a highlight of my Windermere experience. It’s funny because in my work at UBC now, we had some students a couple of years ago actually interview her for a garden project with the Museum of Vancouver. 

She’s infamous for just scattering seeds wherever and just letting them grow naturally. She’s not into rows, more like this is my wild jungle of a garden. She’ll be like, “Oh, this thing’s sprouted from seeds that grew last year from this tomato plant.”, Mimi’s great, definitely a highlight.

What has been the biggest impact that Fresh Roots has had on you? 

Windermere is an interesting experience for me because it seemed like, oh yeah, Jenny’s work with the Garden Club, she’s done the internship, she has got an amazing crop plan spreadsheet. She’ll be great with the Windermere Garden. Maybe I had the skills, but I didn’t have the confidence level at that point, so I was nervous and didn’t really know going into it how to build rapport with the students and to build those relationships. I was hyper-focused on the task of the physical planting and growing and having something to sell at the market. 

Through that experience and a lot of check-ins with Marc, I really learned the importance of balancing relationships and work, and the importance of building trust and rapport. So, I wouldn’t call that experience a failure, but it was a really valuable growing experience for me and hopefully for the garden as well. I think the teacher probably wanted a bit more of it that summer. For me personally, it was a really valuable growing experience that I’ve also brought into my current work of working with students, like getting to know them and hearing their opinions and not just going in with, “Okay guys, this is my plan”, like we’re going to execute it, but instead to really cherish that time. 

There was also one experience that really spoke a lot about the team and the leadership. Once, I was at DT and then like getting my bike ready to go home and then Marc was also getting his bike. We were just chatting and somehow the topic about my mom passing away came up. I remember very distinctly that we were all unlocking our bikes and then Marc stopped unlocking his bike and leaned back and had this posture just really being present and listening. That experience really stood out to me – the difference when even through your body language, to show that you’re listening. I think just in terms of the people we got to work with through Fresh Roots, I learned a lot about being present, holding space, listening, and just valuing people in that sense. Through Marc, Ilana, and Scott, I really appreciate the mentorship they shared and the guidance. Working at Fresh Roots really taught me a lot about what it is to work in a team and to ask for help, to really value relationship building and community building. 

Overall, learning what it’s like to be in a team but also how to facilitate a team. It’s not always leadership, but how do you facilitate and bring people together – be that glue. I’ve really brought that into my current work at UBC as well. 

From Fresh Roots to exploring Asian heritage, how did you end up in the field you’re in today? 

I work with a lot of students, more in heritage Asian Canadian. Winnie and I, since we both worked at Fresh Roots were both in the same GRS program at school, we got to talk a lot about passion for food systems, local food, and farming, but also talked a lot about hey, where are all the Asian faces in food systems, that kind of representation. We’re passionate about food but felt that gap. I’d bring bunches of kale home my family’s like, “What do you do?” Just like being in those spaces like having these conversations with Winnie and others, those conversations led Winnie and I to explore more courses at UBC. We both took a summer program called ACAM 390A “The Heritage of Chinese Migration” where we got to travel to Hong Kong and China like to learn about Chinese migration, but also specifically the food ways and the farming practices that early migrants brought from Southern China here and the contributions of Chinese/Asian farmers here literally feeding the region. 

That course really kind of like changed the trajectory of my post grad life. I’m kind of still working with that team and now supporting the summer course as a UBC staff person. I’ll always have a soft place in my heart for land and food systems farming, food in general. We’ll still bring a lot of that into our work, like we’ll often do team meals or recipe sharing, exploring culture and identity through food. I feel quite gratified when students are able to embrace more of their whole selves through this sort of work as well. I worked at St. John’s College in 2019 and a lot of my work was working in Asian Canadian heritage and supporting academic programs and a lot of like community engaged projects. Thanks to Fresh Roots as well as my LFS degree, I got a lot of exposure to now working in community and just the diversity of people you get to meet and interact with.

What are you up to now and how can we support you? 

I work half time at St. John’s College and then half time with this new centre at UBC called The Centre for Asian Canadian Research and Engagement as the Community Engagement Manager. We’re still figuring out what the centre will look like and what the priorities are, but I’m excited! There are a lot of uncertainties but also a lot of opportunities to grow and dream up together what this can be like for the community, but also for future generations of students. 

A big part of my job is working with students, which I really enjoy. I supervise a student research team, so they’re the ones who work on all the projects with the community, museums and nonprofits. I see my role is kind of like a big sister, like I do the logistics but also just like checking in, “How are you doing? How can we support you and your academic and personal goals?” That’s always really rewarding to see students grow during their time with us. 

For example, one project we worked with the Museum of Vancouver and the Chinese Canadian museum to produce videos and content for an exhibition on Chinese cooking in BC called ‘A Seat at the Table’, which you can actually still see in Chinatown and the Museum of Vancouver. Our students made all the videos for that, like they interviewed people, they edited the film, and they did animation translations. We do other projects with museums or nonprofit, like we’ve had students do a workshop series on digital storytelling, teaching people how to interview their family members to gather and record their family history. We had one storytelling project called Fish Tales with the Gulf of Georgia Cannery, where people share their stories through the lens of seafood consumption, so like what seafood do you and how do you cook it? Why do you cook it and what’s the significance for your family? That was really cool and it really boosted the cannery’s connection with the broader Asian-Canadian community in Richmond. 

There’s actually quite a bit about like backyard gardeners and Chinese barbers. For people who are also exploring that gap in representation, I think they’ll find a lot of cool stuff to get into. I think a lot of people from immigrant families grow up with that kind of ingrained almost shame, almost, like “I just want to fit in”, but through this work and through meeting other students and people in the community who also have a similar experience, it’s very empowering. Like I want to hear my grandma’s stories or I do want to learn these family recipes so that I can pass these on to my kids. It’s so beautiful to see students be able to gain more confidence in who they are.

Do you have any advice for anybody figuring out or changing their career path? 

I mean, I don’t think I have it all figured out, but to be open. You never know what doors will open or what you’ll discover about yourself that you didn’t know before. Also, just to value people, relationships, and connections, that no matter what work you end up doing, relationships, not just make things happen, make life enjoyable and meaningful. Any work is important, but like not letting that take precedence over. I’m still learning that too.

To learn more about Jenny’s work, check out these links:

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