For Development Director Rachel Levi, helping people learn to grow their specific, supportive connections with farming and food justice at EarthDance can be very tender, fruitful work.
And, like farming, fundraising at this non-profit teaching farm can present unexpected challenges and opportunities for growth.
With food justice core to the mission, the work keeps Rachel energized, agile, and steady at EarthDance, where she’s been inviting people into meaningful alliance with the Good Food Movement for more than 14 years.
Rachel visited the Mueller Farm – the land that would become EarthDance – as a teen, but would never have guessed that she’d work here, let alone in fundraising.
Rachel grew up in Ferguson, but was living in Chicago in 2008, when she first learned of EarthDance. Following her completion of a masters program at the University of Chicago, she was investigating permaculture and community gardening. She identified a goal to apply her writing skills in service of the good good movement.
While preparing to return to St. Louis to be closer to family that year, she was searching for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Farm and a job. A dot on a map on the site LocalHarvest.org led her to EarthDance’s social media, where she learned the organization was seeking two Americorps members. She knew she wanted to be part of EarthDance right away. “I just had this huge instant connection that this is where I can fulfill what my dreams were.”
Rachel worked as an Americorps member for her first three years on the farm, helping to create and establish the early iterations of EarthDance’s educational programming. She found herself responding as fledgeling non-profit needs arose. When the opportunity to help operations through grant-writing presented itself, she dug in. When she wrote the grant that funded what would become the Oscar Lee Orchard, she knew she was rooted. “I found that so rewarding. I had invested my academic life into my writing skills – and here I was using them in the real world!”
Rachel has fulfilled many EarthDance roles, and her influence is everywhere on the farm. But she believes the farm itself attracts the people who will sustain the Mueller’s farming legacy. “I think there is something bigger and special here. Something prosocial and farming-related would be happening here no matter what,” she said.
And, she’s proud and grateful to do the work she does to help keep EarthDance fortified with resources needed to fulfill its mission.
Certainly the work has been challenging in ways that have inspired growth over the years. “We’ve been grateful for needed wake-up calls.” Rachel recounted an example of this, when apprenticeship participants shared challenging feedback about unconscious white privilege on the farm. “At the time, the CSA had not been marketed well to the neighborhood. We were humbled and realized we wanted to explore how EarthDance could better serve our immediate neighborhood. The Pay What You Can Farm Stand is a great fruition of what the community wanted to see from us,” she said.
“I’ve learned that engaging people around their passions and power is like a dance. You have to find what specifically connects each person to the work.”
And, it’s never boring! “At EarthDance, there’s always this flow of energy, new ideas. That said, it has been reassuring to see the farm and the systems of the organization stabilize over the years. With each level of stabilization, I feel reassured, and it’s a good incentive to keep at it. We are always moving toward stronger practices and a better foundation.”
Looking to grow your connection with EarthDance? There are so many ways to dig in. Rachel would love to meet you to discuss them! Drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 314-521-1006.