• New VISTA volunteer is Homer resident
By Naomi Klouda
Sara Conyers’ anthropological interest mixed together with public health makes for a unique pairing of disciplines that happens to help as she is placed in the forefront of Homer food projects.
While crisscrossing the country with her truck driver dad at the age of 13-14, Conyers grew curious about people and their eating habits. Truck stop diners came in abundant variety and getting to all 48 states meant a lot of time to observe.
“I saw so many places, and I think that is where I started developing an interest in people and food,” she said. Alaska was her 49th state and Hawaii became the 50th. “Now I can say I’ve been to all 50 states.”
For four years in a row, Homer has hosted a VISTA volunteer. Conyers is the third to be involved with Sustainable Homer and the Farmer’s Market.
“I’ve always been fascinated with people and food. The solution to a lot of problems is agriculture and nutrition,” Conyers said. “Where are we going to get it from? We don’t have to hunt and gather, but we do have to walk into the grocery store and make healthy decisions.”
VISTA volunteers in the past came from other parts of the United States. Conveys came to Homer in 2007 and then left to complete her degree at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. She might be a familiar face to customers at Nomar and at Coal Point Fish Processing where she has worked through the years.
In Hawaii, she rounded out studies by working on an organic farm in exchange for board. There she became fascinated with the tree crop breadfruit, one of the highest-yielding food plants. A single tree can produce up to 200 or more fruits per season.
“I lived and breathed breadfruit. Because it is high-yielding and higher in protein, it was sought as a food source for the slave populations in Haiti and the Caribbean,” she said. The problem is that breadfruit died out in some parts of the tropics. Bringing it back could provide a rich food source to feed many people. Like the food security issue hundreds of years ago, recognizing the value of such plants could supply answers for diets, Conyer said. It could also answer problems to reforest areas that were clear-cut.
While at the University of Hawaii, Conveys took land use planning courses, agriculture, nutrition, applied medical anthropology classes and, with the breadfruit work, tallied up a diverse course load. After graduating in 2011, she began looking for a VISTA position.
“Nothing came up,” she said. In Homer, Anthropology Professor Catherine Knott encouraged her to apply to Kyra Wagoner to serve Sustainable Homer and the Farmer’s Market. “I thought how great would that feel to be able to stay in my community and do VISTA work. Finally, all the crazy stuff I took in college makes sense.”
The primary assignment facing Conyer, now on the job since early February, is building a local food network. She continues a community food assessment begun by the previous two VISTA volunteers. This is the third and final year of the project.
“The overall goal in the end is building a more food-secure Homer. It’s to discover what’s needed, what’s missing, how to get it and how to raise awareness,” she said.
Though the Homer Farmer’s Market can supply vegetables for families on food stamps, that program is under utilized. One area of focus is to find ways to connect these families to fresh, local veggies. Another is connecting high tunnel growers to organizations that need and want to buy their products. And she would like to help with a community-supported seed bank so that growers can share their more successful plant seedlings.
Conyers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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