“Winter Brain”: Dreaming of Healthy Futures

By Maddie Hyde, Evaluation and Communication Specalist, Dream of Wild Health

A bit over a month ago, it was the beginning of November and I picked a full bouquet of marigolds from my front yard. Just a few weeks ago, crisp green kale was flourishing in my backyard. During this week of below freezing temperatures, I’m dreaming of such an experience!

When I started my VISTA year in August, we were in the heat of the summer, and I was thrown right into what the wonderful experience of our youth program and the farm, acclimating myself to the Dream of Wild Health “ecosystem,” an orientation for my tasks to come.

Our work at Dream of Wild Health is highly seasonal with summers filled with youth programs, farm maintenance, transporting produce to market, all on top of typical nonprofit work of fundraising, grantwriting, evaluating, and crafting educational programs to serve the community.

While picking the marigolds from my yard last month was lovely, I then spent much of November indoors crafting emails for a fundraising campaign, picking at spreadsheets to ensure accurate data was imported into our donor database, creating manuals to empower staff to do the same, and thinking big about how to improve our communications strategy.

At Dream of Wild Health our mission mandates us to be seasonal in order to “restore health and well-being in the Native community by recovering knowledge of and access to healthy Indigenous foods, medicines and lifeways”. Work at our farm is vital to carrying out our mission, while time spent building our capacity “behind the scenes” is just as important to our supporting our work.

We say at Dream of Wild Health that to really “get it” you have to come out our farm in Hugo, MN. And although we serve the urban Native community and the office I work in is in the Phillips neighborhood, the farm is where the magic happens. Weather it be a staff meeting, helping out with a feast for the community, or a service day with my fellow VISTA’s, any time spent at the farm always supports my work behind the scenes in the office.

In the winter, when snow covers the farm, the tractor is put away in the barn, and our youth are in school, we hunker down for the season in our Phillips office to debrief and start planning for next year; planning youth programs, crunching the numbers of our season’s success, and assessing what we can do next year to more fully carry out our mission. Winter is when we fall into that mode when we dream big, evaluate, reevaluate, and the office when we are buzzing with ideas for the next season. In our office, we sometimes call this “winter brain,” when we are dreaming big and planning wildly for next season.

As a VISTA, I don’t think I imagined it was possible that I could find a position that combined opportunities to be out in the field (literally, in a field with plants) along with opportunities to learn nonprofit skills like managing a donor database, communications, and evaluations, creating systems change behind a desk and in collaborative meetings. I’m learning from Dream of Wild Health, that it is not only possible, but necessary to pair a farm and office environment that can work cohesively together to accomplish our mission of restoring traditional foods, medicines, and lifeways in the Native community. In fact, it is vital that we make such a pairing. I’m learning my role of “capacity building” within a farm context. Growing and eating kale can be revolutionary, but so can installing an accessible donor database.