Sandra Dumitras is a woman you want to know. She is uncommonly hospitable, with a warm smile and a cheeky wit. Over the past five years she has become an invaluable part of the A Rocha team. If you don’t know her or what she does, allow us to introduce you through a conversation we recently shared:

ARC: What was your childhood dream? 

Sandra:  I had a dream of having a huge house where people could come and eat for free.  In my childish mind I thought, well there are rich people and poor people. I believed the rich people should just provide for the poor people ,and so I thought in my 5 year-old mind, I’d be that person, I’ll have a big house and feed all these people.

ARC: Wow, you’re more or less doing what you dreamed of! Tell us about your work at Brooksdale.

Sandra: I coordinate gardening and cooking programs for underserved children, families and seniors. Underserved simply means those who lack access to quality food and community due to financial constraints or social isolation. We partner with local non-profits, the Surrey School District, DIVERSEcity, Sources Women’s Place, YWCA, and the Evergreen Care Home, hosting everyone from young girls in a kids-at-risk school program, to recent immigrants and refugees, to seniors living in care homes. We want to be a home for these people, a place of connection and home-made meals where they can learn and laugh and be themselves.

ARC: How does one train for such a job?

Sandra:  Well, I certainly didn’t “train” with this job in mind since I didn’t know A Rocha existed in my university years!  My training was from SFU in International Studies. We had whole courses on ethnic violence and on freedom and poverty. We were trying to solve the world’s problems, but then I sadly realized a global solution was out of our reach. I distinctly remember how I had taken a whole course on poverty in the Global South with a constant theme of agriculture, but I didn’t even know how to grow a carrot. I didn’t actually  know anything about on-the-ground agriculture.

ARC: That leads us to your internship with A Rocha, which was a sort of bridge from your degree to your present role. Tell us about that. 

Sandra:  My A Rocha internship in sustainable agriculture helped me connect my values around poverty and food to the practicality of knowing how to grow and share it (and to boot, my internship helped me get the fittest I’ve ever been in my life!). Food was actually the center-piece of my internship. I didn’t know how to cook or how to grow anything before I came. I experienced how sharing a meal made up of food grown by the sweat of your own brow can become an occasion of celebration and deepening friendship. I am now working to create that same experience for others who wouldn’t normally have access to it. Sometimes you just need someone to coordinate that for others because it doesn’t happen naturally in our individualistic, pre-packaged culture, especially for those on the economic margins.

ARC: Anybody who knows you would say you are a community oriented person, tell us more about that in relation to food.

Sandra: Everything comes together at the table. It’s a place of not only physical sustenance, but emotional and social sustenance as well. It’s a place where seniors can feel valued, listened to and cared for. In turn they see what they have to offer. It’s also a place where kids from tough economic backgrounds are empowered as they learn to make their own meals (usually for the first time) as well as make new friends. Of course, the table is also a place of conservation since agriculture has such a huge impact on the environment due to chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticide use, the reliance on fossil fuels for growing and transporting produce, and deforestation for more ag land. So, eating local, sustainably-grown food is one of the most practical ways to care for creation. And to invite people to learn how to do that in community, well, that’s a recipe for joy!

ARC: Give us a snapshot of some of the folks that participate in Farm to Families and how people access it.

Sandra: Happily the program is FREE. Folks access it through various non-profit organizations working in their neighbourhoods. They come for a field-trip type experience and can often be found cooking pizza at our outside cob oven or going on a forest walk near the river (recently, this was the favourite activity of a group of East Indian seniors who commented that nobody had ever told them the names of plants and flowers growing in their area). For many, especially those from the inner-city context of the Whalley or Newton neighbourhoods in Surrey, coming to A Rocha feels like going to another country. And for newcomers from agrarian regions, they feel like they’re coming home because they miss their farms and gardens. I often hear people reminiscing about those lost farms and traditions. Their remembering doesn’t make their old lives come back, but it connects them to their pasts and what’s most meaningful to them in the here and now.