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AOLC Intern Awarded Prestigious Social Justice Fellowship

Brian Shobe, a Duffy Intern from Beloit College who worked with us in our Rockford Roots & Wings youth gardens, was recently awarded a fellowship with the Emerson National Hunger Fellows Program.  The Emerson Program supports a diversity of local and national approaches to eliminate hunger, poverty and social inequality, particularly racism. The fellowship is only offered to 20 people each year, making this quite a notable accomplishment!  We had the pleasure of talking to Brian recently and hearing about the ways his experience with AOLC helped him to learn, grow, and connect. 


Tell us a little bit about your internship with AOLC.  

The internship varied a lot with the seasons. In the fall I helped out with the Concord Community Garden’s afterschool sessions. Over winter, I worked more closely with the youth leaders, fulfilling their requests to advise them through a grant-writing process, participate in their strategic planning, and occasionally facilitate a portion of their meeting. In spring I was back outside at the Blackhawk Community Garden, which evolved into a summer research project surveying neighborhood’s residents about their perceptions of, barriers to participating in, and hopes for the garden and neighborhood.


What did you learn from your work with the Youth Leaders?  

 The most important lesson: youth are highly capable of taking on challenging work. I was often surprised at how much I could take the backseat in our projects. I saw the Youth Leaders, with only a little coaching, facilitate gardening workshops, write a grant, and plan and plant a garden. If we could get the Youth Leaders to their meeting space, they would get business done, no matter the challenges they faced at school, home, or in the community.

Of course, they wanted to have fun too… and eat good food. So we did, and those meetings remain some of the best in my life, which has stuck with me as a lesson for designing future events.


What else will you carry with you from your experience?

Community gardens are hard work. I think most people underestimate the amount of planning, resources, and labor that go into one. So the Youth Leaders deserve credit, and anyone wanting to start one should talk to them before beginning.

And strawberries and worm bins are quintessential to any garden.

I also think I’ll always carry with me a little bit of the Youth Leaders’ sometimes sweet, sometimes sly, and sometimes boisterous personalities.


Tell us about the Emerson Fellowship.

The Emerson Fellowship is an opportunity for me to further hone my skills as an advocate for a more just food system. For the first six months, I’ll be partnered with a community-based organization that fights hunger and its root causes, doing something along the lines of program evaluation or community organizing. Then I’ll be bridging that experience to issues of national public policy through a five -month placement in D.C. The Emerson Fellows have done some amazing work in the past and I’m thrilled to have the chance to stand on their shoulders and continue the good work.


What are your goals for the future?

My specific aspirations change frequently, but the thread that runs through them all is advancing a more just and resilient food system. I could see myself farming, running a social enterprise, or lobbying the powers that be, so for now am exploring them all.


We offer Brian our gratitude for his work with us in Rockford and best wishes for the future.  We can't wait to see the amazing things he will accomplish as a leader in the food justice movement!