BA, Religion and Theatre, 2006
Sewanee: The University of the South (Sewanee, TN)
I spent my time in college learning how to read, critically analyze and write succinctly about ancient texts that hold great meaning for people. Acting in and directing plays, as well as learning physical comedy in London while studying abroad, showed me the power of synergy and the magic that happens when you choose to say “yes!” and to play.
After college I interned at a non-profit public hospital in Rome, GA, where my parents lived. I learned a lot about hospital administration, the Joint Commission, and public relations, and also that hospital administration was not for me. All the while I was waking up early in the morning to prepare cinnamon rolls, scones and cookies as the sweets baker at the local bakery, which was taxing (yet delicious), and I had my own apartment and I was figuring out my next move.
When my financial situation changed and I needed to move back in with my folks, I was crestfallen and felt an impulsive pressure to move forward in my life. Now what? I did some soul-searching and realized that I wanted to look at the connection between people’s religious beliefs and their attitudes towards the environment. Why do religious folks (and non-religious spiritual folks) care about our earth? And what does it look like when people attempt to live together in community with the purpose of taking care of the planet? How do they govern themselves? What do they eat? What might a future look like wherein people are mindful stewards of resources? What is sustainability and what is its driving philosophy? All of these questions led me to find an internship at an intentional community and aspiring ecovillage in Dexter, OR, called Lost Valley Educational Center.
Internship, Lost Valley Educational Center, Dexter, OR, July 2007-Dec 2007
Permaculture Design Certificate, October 2007
The internship consisted of a couple of cooking shifts per week, where we prepared vegetarian meals for the community and the on-site camp and conference center guests; cleaning shifts; checking and maintaining inventory; maintaining standardized recipes; preparing salad dressings and gomasio; ordering and picking up food each week; and making sure the outdoor summer kitchen was safe, sanitary, and stocked for the students at the permaculture design course.
For those who may not be familiar with the term, permaculture (coming from the words permanent culture or permanent agriculture) is a whole systems design process that when utilized allows us to live without using as many resources or as much energy.
One example of redesigning a life using permaculture principles that I really enjoy sharing is to design your life so that you can ride your bike to work: this stacks functions, allowing you to move your body, breathe fresh air, enjoy the beauty of being outside, bring consciousness to your immediate actions, and awaken you after either sleeping or working at a desk all day. For more about Lost Valley, see www.lostvalley.org, and for more about permaculture, see https://permacultureprinciples.com/principles/.
That summer and fall I lived outside in a tent in the meadow and it was glorious. I worked and learned. I made amazing friends and had insights nearly every day, by simply immersing myself in the food, the gardens, the compost and the community life. When some dear friends from Lost Valley moved to Portland, I tagged along and searched for options to continue my quest to investigate the connection of people to their faith and the environment.
Internship and Farm-to-Congregation coordinator, May 2008-May 2009
Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, Portland, OR
At the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO) I worked to connect farmers to local congregations by helping to facilitate and communicate about Community Supported Agriculture boxes (CSAs) or after-services farmer’s tables. EMO was the first group to work on a faith-based Congregational Wellness initiative through the Robert Woods Johnson foundation, and I was able to participate in some early discussions about developing wellness policies within congregations. Also, some of my time was spent documenting and assisting congregations with energy audits of their buildings and implementing strategies to reduce their carbon footprints.
At the same time I was volunteering at a local organic farm called Farmageddon Growers’ Collective.
Volunteer and Member-grower
Farmageddon Growers’ Collective, 2008-2011
My duties involved all aspects of growing a variety of crops, including salad greens, brassicas, winter and summer squash, potatoes, carrots, strawberries, raspberries, etc. As time progressed, I took on the responsibility of compiling and submitting our organic certification paperwork (we were certified through Oregon Tilth, an amazing group of people who influenced the National Organic Program at its early stages).
While working at FGC and EMO, a friend passed through town and shared his photos from his thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and I was hooked on the idea of a solo hike along the mountains from Mexico to Canada, even though I had never backpacked once in my life. I set about getting together my ultralight hiking gear and making a plan for the first 30 days on the trail, figuring out where I would sleep and when I would go in to town.
Solo hike of the Pacific Crest Trail (1400 mile section from Mexico to Burney Falls)
May 1 – July 31 2009
Why did I do this? Hmmm… Well, I wanted to test my physical limits—to see how far I could go, how much my body could handle. And I wanted to be by myself for a while, get out of Portland, and see California, that magical place I’d read about in Steinbeck novels and seen briefly during a trip to visit my sister in Yosemite right after college graduation.
Food fact: I was a vegetarian on the hike (now pescatarian) and I nicknamed the trail the Pacific Veggie Burger with Cheese Trail since I ate so many of them along the way. That one item was the most reliable option in small towns with only a burger joint and a pizza place, and I was so thankful for them.
At the end of 1400 miles I was tired of the cycle of walking for 3-5 days and then going in to town, I was tired of the dried food, and hadn’t really ever connected with another hiker as a partner. There’s a saying on the trail to “Hike your own hike,” and that’s what I did. Yet one of the main reasons I got off the trail was because I wanted to eat dinner with someone each night, a desire that stands to this very moment, and which I am happy to say is fulfilled almost every day.
After leaving the trail, I returned to Portland, worked at the farm and got a job at a vegan juice and smoothie place. Thought about going to divinity school, was accepted, then opted instead to do a one-year apprenticeship with a newly-formed group in Northern California aimed at helping young people discern purpose while living in Christian community, and modeling our lives with permaculture design principles.
Apprenticeship, The Center for Nature and Christian Spirituality (now called Emergence)
August 2011-July 2012
Living in community with three other people was tough as we worked together, learned in a classroom together, and dealt with conflict as it came up by using Marshall Rosenberg’s model of Non-Violent Communication. The curriculum included Rosenberg’s work as well as readings in Lectio Divina (a type of contemplative prayer), Clearness Committees (a special prayer-like practice of the Quaker tradition that assists in discernment), and holistic life planning with special emphasis on financial planning. I also spent 4 days fasting in the wilderness as part of a wilderness rite of passage. I will spend some time sharing about that later in another blog post, especially if people are interested.
Projects completed included: building a permanent community compost facility for Westminster Woods Camp and Conference Center in Occidental, CA (where we lived), planning and cooking locally-sourced vegetarian meals once a week for staff members, removing invasive broom species from the hillsides of San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Rafael, and leading children and adults in removal of invasive species at Westminster Woods.
While I was living and working at the center, I visited my sister who was working in South Lake Tahoe and ended up meeting a very special person to whom I am now married. Matt and I dated long-distance for a year, and then I moved to Tahoe to figure out my next steps.
I got a job at a vegan café in South Lake Tahoe and had some time to think. As I was listening to a podcast by Jon Young one day, he was discussing bird language, or how birds communicate with one another to share where there is danger, security, food and water. His work helps to reconnect adults and especially children to nature as a way to heal community and culture. One thing he mentioned struck me like a lightning bolt, seemingly out of the blue (although we think these moments of insight have likely been primed by years of action and reflection) and I was really moved by it. He said that humans require nutrition from nature—not just from the food produced from it, but from the simple act of being in it and spending time with other living things. Mind you, I had been spending time looking at the spiritual side of nature for quite some time and what intrigued me in that moment was the word *nutrition* as it related to food nourishing the body in a *physical* way.
I wonder if it’s the opposite for some people… Do others learn about the biology first and then appreciate the spiritual inter-connectedness and the miraculous grace behind the biology second? Either way, for me, it was revolutionary to go deeper into the physical aspects of eating, digesting and utilizing nutrients as I was coming from a background in religious and spiritual study and practice, and had spent many years thinking of the spiritual nourishment that comes from eating food grown and prepared in community. In that moment the word nutrition transformed me, and revealed a desire to become a professional expert in the scientific field of nutrition.
Lake Tahoe Community College was my springboard for growing into this new career and I took all the prerequisites there so that I could enter a coordinated dietetics program. The coordinated program at California State University-Los Angeles is where I eventually ended up!
Matt and I got married in August 2013 on a granite outcropping near the trail that I had trekked, and facing the mountains that he had skied for years.
Lake Tahoe Community College and California State University, Los Angeles
MS Nutritional Science and Registered Dietitian
April 2013-December 2016
CSULA’s program has an emphasis on community nutrition and a lot of the 1200 hours of internship that is required to attain a Registered Dietitian credential was done at community and service organizations. We worked in the kitchen at Project Angelfood, which aims to feed clients who are facing chronic illness hot, nutritious, freshly-prepared, allergen-free meals daily, and spent time at WIC sites learning about the program that fills in the food gaps for pregnant and breastfeeding women and children at nutritional risk.
My administrative rotation was at Lawndale Elementary School District, and my clinical rotation was at Little Company of Mary Medical Center in San Pedro. Other rotations included the Blue Zones Project at Beach Cities Health District, as well as a rotation with the Center for Health and Fitness at Beach Cities Health District (www.bchd.org). My elective rotation was completed at Helping Hand Nutrition, under the mentorship of Jana Greene Hand, MS, RD. Her offices are in West Hills and Encino, and more information about her can be found here: www.helpinghandnutrition.com.
Throughout the coursework, and in my rotations, I stayed open to the possibility of making a career in whatever environment into which I had been placed. When I spent time in private practice with Jana, however, I knew that I had found my vocation in working with individuals one-on-one doing nutrition counseling.
Whew! That was a long post—and I didn’t even mention that Matt and I had a baby while I was in school and all the fun stuff that happened in regards to sleeping, working, writing papers and breastfeeding/pumping. (More for another day…)
Suffice it to say, the holistic approach to wellness that I take with clients has been informed and shaped by not just my training and professional credentials, but by my “street credentials” as a student of life, long trails, farms and diverse communities; furthermore, my dedication to clients to help them become more full of life and more satisfied with their nutritional choices is unwavering.
I look forward to hearing from those of you who choose to comment below!
Until next time, Sarah