Real Food Highlight: Jon Skirbina

Hey Foodie Friends! We are excited to debut our first post in a brand new blog series all about showing our appreciation for the amazing members of our food loving community.

This week our first addition of the Real Food Highlight series is all about Real Food Collaborative member Jon Skirbina!

Jon is a integral member of the Real Food Collaborative one of the current farm managers at the Cal Poly Organic Farm. The Real Food Collaborative would not be what it is today without him! He has full-heartedly offered his humble leadership, grounding support, and innovative ideas to our community and club. Not only has he served as president of the club and co-founder of the vegetable subscription program, but he has worked to secure meaningful and lasting relationships with campus partners such as the Cal Poly Organic Farm. We are so grateful to Jon for this program and the huge role he has taken up this year as the farm manager. He has given so much of his heart to this club and the seeds he planted are far reaching. He has been an anchor to our community over the last few years and the club would not be the same without him. We love you Jon! Thank you for growing our veggies, making us bread, and always making us laugh! This club wouldn’t be the same without you!

Below is a letter from Jon to the members of the Real Food Community:

Jon and his veggies!

Jon and his veggies!

Dear Real Food Collaborative community,

Yesterday was the first Veggie Pickup of the quarter. I was so excited that I got out of class early enough to participate in the delivery of purple sweet potatoes, tomatoes, basil and so many other beautiful veggies I had a literal hand in growing this summer. I sat on an unfurled blanket, talking with the coordinators of the Veg-Sitters, ooggling at a crazy sweet potato. I felt gratitude to all those involved.

Veg-Sitting has been extremely formative to my time at Cal Poly. In the early days it was three hours of unadulterated people-watching. Initially I would try to ensnare passersby with a welcoming “Hullo!” It usually only ensnared religious fanatics, or folks who were wondering “How much for 1 avocado?” Soon enough, I was seeing familiar faces and I could repeat the line “Everything here is pre-sold.” in my sleep. Regulars to Dexter included previous professors, transient students and a very polite evangelist. These characters afforded me new perspectives in the stillness. People literally passed me by as I sat still and watched, teaching myself to juggle tangerines (I still can’t). Soon, friends and club members with free time would gather (occasionally bribed with free oranges). Seeing subscribers every week was the best part, because each time I met them it reminded me why I was there, why I wanted to start the program.

Near the end of my first year here, the graduating president of the Real Food Collaborative, Jesse Gibson, asked me what real food the community should have access to. I told him that organic vegetables grown on campus should be sold on campus. He agreed and set off, with my naive support, to create a CSA. I don’t know how he really started the whole thing, I certainly helped, I think. At any rate, our pilot project was successful, but he was graduating. After the summer, the program would open up the the greater Cal Poly community. He would be handing the reins of a very strange looking horse to me. I cannot credit him enough as he badgered me to write an operations manual, set up a template for financial recording and do much more during that summer. Oh by the way, he said, you’re going to also be the president of the club this year.  I was nervous, but I came to Cal Poly because I wanted to feed people real food.

My dream for so long has been to build a food system alternative to the global industrial ones that seem so inescapable. And this is what I was doing. Somehow, I had connected with nearly 30 members of the community who wanted to participate in the very same thing. They also wanted food grown on the same land they lived on, they also wanted food grown by hand in fertile, living soil. These people became subscribers of the Veggie Subscription, many still remain loyal supporters. Over the first year the program peaked at nearly 40 subscribers. It was incredibly successful, the demand was there. Yet, I had a sort of tunnel vision about the project and the club. I was taking it more seriously than I should have, micromanaging everything.  I was exhausted and ready to give up.

I fled the country (took a quarter off for an internship). In the meantime, my good friends and peers in the Real Food Collab drastically improved RFC into what it is today: a network of foodies increasing access to real food to those who want it. They sought funding, built a website, delegated roles, and got me a job on the organic farm. I am truly honored to have been able to watch the veggie subscription evolve and grow, and happy to say that the program is now in  more and much better hands.

Though I can no longer veggie-sit for a full three hours every week, I am still so happy to join the current group of foodies who gather every Wednesday on Dexter. They are a part of an alternative localized food system that, to me, epitomizes real food. To have had a hand in the creation of this system is more than I could have hoped for in my time at Cal Poly. Growing roots and making space is so hard in a four-year university. Once the space is found and the seed is sprouted, you graduate, your projects end and you leave. I am now confident that this program will continue to succeed long after I graduate thanks to all of the allies, supporters, subscribers, coordinators, harvesters, veggie-sitters and eaters that have chosen to create this food chain. A seed planted, to be watered by others.