Thank you, Leslie

“Stamping words with acrylic. The final sessions on this piece are in the near future. The portrait depicts Michelle Howell of Need More Acres Farm who does amazing work for food access in the South Central Kentucky region.” ┬áLeslie Nichols

Leslie was the first to watch me speak quietly, waver and then make the bold decision to speak up for the rights of low-income mothers. We were at a women’s studies dinner where the topic was local food. Nathan and I had been invited by our good friend Zach who was partnering with Brittany Ryan, Christian Ryan and I on establishing a successful outreach program for Community Farmers Market Bowling Green.
Local food dinners were not new, but this idea of opening up a culture that included foodies and respected farmers with an invitation to the hungry, low-income, refugees, immigrants, single mothers and seniors was. To invite them to that very table was unheard of.
The dinner started with conversations meant to define local, organic and the ever favorable 100-mile dinner. In a sudden turn (about the time dessert was served) my fierce friend Brittany mentioned low-income breastfeeding mothers participating in the WIC program who had expressed interest in her recent research project to purchase local food. Tension grew.
Low-income single mothers and married with multiple children women were characterized. The debate continued on whether breastfeeding was reasonable for working women. It was clear that we struck a nerve. Did those who were hungry, struggling, uneducated or in general not invited to the table welcome to the local food system.
At no more than a whisper, and only to those at my table, I spoke to the people that I knew by name. The farmers, the mothers, the refugees, our black sisters, the college students, and community leaders. There were stories here in our community that represented much more than the woman choosing not to work or the Duggars.
Leslie Nichols encouraged me with kindness to speak, and I did. My voice was shaking, but I persisted. I talked about the rights of birthing women and how that effects breastfeeding which effects the health of our future. I choked down tears to tell my story as a young girl and now as a mother. I mentioned friends who traveled here from other countries with their husbands who were working the land that produces our food.
I’ll forever be thankful for those who encouraged me in those early days to find my voice. I hope that as Leslie puts my words to this image, she recognizes how meaningful her response to my fear was on that night.
Before food access became favorable, before we knew the rights of the marginalized were so dire, before we knew we’d be talking about building walls and cutting food security there were lots of women like me being encouraged to share stories, build momentum, stretch out the table and invite more people to sit down and eat their share.

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