JSC students toil in the soil of Waco, Texas

A house with four walls, a bamboo roof, a dirt floor and only two beds was where the Badger Alternative Break group, focusing on poverty and sustainability, stayed in during their week-long service trip in Waco, Texas.

In September, a group of Johnson State College students started to meet every week to learn and prepare themselves for their alternative break trip. Hunter Mallette and Rebecca Bingham led the group of nine students including Mikayla Turner, Abbie Casey, Emma English, Gabby Straight, Jayden Duval and Julia Bruner.

Mallette had been to Waco, Texas before and had warned her group that it was not the most scenic of places before they headed out for February break.

“I knew what Waco already looked like because I had been before, and I knew it wasn’t pretty. I tried explaining that the best I could, but I don’t think the group really got it. Especially because we only got to go out for an afternoon and we went to a nicer shopping area,” said Mallette.

Mallette, who admits that she is more of a soft skills person, was pushed during the trip as they worked at World Hunger Relief Inc. Every morning, the group would wake up in their simple house on the property of World Relief Hunger Incorporated and were responsible for waking themselves up and doing animal chores such as feeding, watering and moving pens. They would also work on cleaning and gardening projects throughout the day.

“It was nice to get dirty and sweaty for a change!” said Mallette.

Casey, who is a junior at JSC, joined BAB for a third time this year because she always enjoys learning and growing through the service no matter the hard work they do on the trips.

“The highlight of my trip was working in a small group of three on the back vegetable gardens,” said Casey. “It was our first warm and sunny day in Texas, and we were fully exposed to the heat, and we were given a list of chores to finish, such as shoveling compost and spreading 20 buckets worth across each long vegetable row, as well as laying down drip irrigation and tilling the soil. This hands-on work is my favorite part of BAB because you can visibly see the difference you are making, feel the gratification of hard work and be alongside those who are just as determined as you are to complete the service efficiently.”

The group also visited local elementary schools where Casey and others continued to learn gardening techniques while helping the locals.

“We helped lay out compost to build their school garden using and layering paper, cardboard, leaves, compost and coffee grounds. We also helped the students plant seeds and water the greenhouse plants, as well as build up the compost bins by using the same layering technique,” said Casey.

Through all of the garden work, the group learned the importance of compost and how it plays an important role in sustaining a farm in growing produce.

“It is important to know how to compost properly and is eye opening when you realize how much of our everyday products can be composted back into the earth to help grow and sustain life,” said Casey.
Throughout the week, JSC students witnessed a lot of what goes on at a farm. They had time to play with bunnies and surround themselves with chickens, but they also saw the reality of life and death.

“We witnessed a lot of animal husbandry, birth and death in one week,” said Mallette. “Baby goats were born, and one died shortly thereafter. Some students also got to witness the horns being cut off of baby calves and goats.”

On top of daily chores, the students had an educational day at the farm where they went through a program that was similar to what those who are living at the extreme poverty levels feel daily.

“The farm we were working on had an educational day called LOTOS or Living On The Other Side,” explained Turner, a junior who has traveled with a BAB group every year since her freshman year. “This included walking to get water to use for cooking and drinking, working to earn our cookware and food and cooking our meal over an open fire. I even helped pick out and kill a chicken on that day. At the time it was not a highlight because I remember being hungry and tired throughout the day, but looking back, it gave me a better understanding of how millions of people are living across the world.”

Turner and others also spend time exploring a world map that showed the unequal food distribution across the world.

“North America holds the place for highest percentage of food consumption and wealth at 32 percent and 34 percent. In comparison, Africa holds two percent and one percent of the total food consumed and wealth,” said Turner.

Casey, who has now been on three BAB trips, enjoyed the educational aspect of this trip and learned more than she had on her two prior breaks. “All of the activities revealed how unaware I was about poverty and how impactful living a sustainable lifestyle can have on us and our relationship with Earth,” said Casey.

The group was led by two onsite workers, Lauren Dasilva and Emily Haas. Haas was from Michigan, but Dasilva moved to Texas six months ago from Johannesburg, South Africa, due to a crisis and brought her entire family with her.

“They provided educational activities, organized chores and trips to schools, as well as gave us tours around the expansive farmland… They both were very positive and proactive leaders who really enjoyed working and educating us about poverty and sustainable agriculture,” said Casey.

Though the group was exposed to the realities of poverty and hunger, they were also able to enjoy fresh, farm-cooked meals.

“A few of the girls helped make DIY tacos. The shells were homemade, and there was fresh guac and pork. The whole nine yards,” said Mallette. “They also made an avocado and mango salad and some other amazing sides! All the meals were super fresh, but this was the most colorful.”

Now that the group is back in Vermont, they have continued to meet weekly to reflect and continue their education around poverty and hunger. The group hopes complete their post-trip service at the Johnson Food Shelf along with organizing sustainable agriculture activities on campus in April.