Jazz wrote: For as long as I can remember, I have been incredibly passionate about being a vegetarian and spreading information on vegetarianism because it benefits me, fellow humans, and the Earth. I knew that vegetarian eating was the ethical, peaceful, healthy way I wanted to live and share with others. At a very young age, I combined this interest with gardening as a way to positively impact my inner circle and broader community. I enjoy seeing the literal fruits of my labor and giving people more information on becoming vegetarians.
My grandmother began my family’s vegetarian journey when concern for health and her belief system converged. She wanted a healthier, more ethical diet devoid of killing animals in the early 1970s. My motivation includes those reasons along with concern for our planet. The abuse animals have to endure is outrageous and it is not addressed enough. Vegetarianism is more than a lifestyle to me. It is a movement. A movement of individuals standing up for something so powerful and all-encompassing that they practice it multiple times daily by adopting a diet that is in the minority in our country.
I started my first vegetable and herb garden when I was in preschool and I have been in love with growing my own food since. Amid Michelle Obama’s push for healthier school lunches during my kindergarten year, my elementary school began to help promote growing and eating more vegetables. This led to the launch of a learning garden program at my school, Linwood Holton Elementary in Richmond, Virginia. As soon as I heard this news, I knew I had to be a part of it since I already considered myself an “expert.” I helped set up garden beds, plant vegetables, gather compost, and label plants. I also wrote in my school’s newsletter about the vegetarian food I eat and the things I garden. Throughout my elementary school years, I participated in a number of garden related projects. I helped set up my elementary school’s raised garden beds, which contain over 20 wooden beds. I helped with the school’s butterfly garden, which is a garden shaped like a butterfly designed to attract pollinators. I also volunteered with the school’s edible forest, which has many Virginia native fruit trees. Another project I participated in is the creation of our school’s rain garden with the help of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, in an effort to prevent water runoff. My elementary school has the best garden of any school in the Richmond, Virginia area. It makes me proud that I assisted in setting that foundation.
Sometimes sharing your experiences educates people and creates change. This happened when my influence on Ruby Scoops Ice Creams and Sweets led to their offering vegan options. The popular shop is now one of the top 10 Vegan-friendly shops in Virginia. I went on to work there for two summers and helped the shop prepare to participate in the Richmond Vegan Festival. I highly recommend this eatery–particularly the guava sorbet! Another way I have been able to create positive change is that I have been a member of my school system’s Student Advisory Council for more than three years. While I have been a member, I have constantly spoken up about the struggle of finding vegetarian options in the lunch line. This had led to improvements across the district.
When the pandemic hit my freshman year I was devastated. Being able to help others start their gardening journey is a passion of mine and not being able to connect with people on that level hurts. Then, my mother and I discussed challenges we encountered being Black and vegetarian. We frequently experience people questioning the validity of our vegetarian lifestyle because we’re Black. People constantly say rude and racist things to us since they seem to believe Black people are not traditionally vegetarian. We’ve even had family members question our diet and ask how we get nutrition. With this in mind, over the pandemic my mother and I started a Richmond-based, Black gardening group on Facebook. The “RVA Black Garden Community” is a place where Black gardeners, Black farmers, and most importantly Black vegetarians connect. In the Facebook group, which has more than 600 members, we provide vegetarian recipes, gardening tips, community resources, and information on local farmers’ markets. The group has also participated in some very fun activities, including visiting a Black-owned farm, coordinating five free community seed exchanges, and hosting six virtual workshops. We have been able to pass on knowledge to support liberating Black vegetarians throughout our community. This experience helped me learn a valuable lesson. I learned that there is so much joy in teaching and helping others. In college and in the long term, I will continue to reach out to people and connect with them to build a community, because that is my strength. In five years, I hope to pursue a career in music composition. My goal is to score films and documentaries that spread more information about the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle.
The deadline for the annual Vegetarian Resource Group scholarship is February 20 of each year. See other winners and details for entry at https://www.vrg.org/student/scholar.htm
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