Article originally published by Edible Rhody
How Yoga and Local Food Are Two Halves of the Same Tomato
Amanda Rubio is a woman who seems to have it all figured out. I ventured to meet the yogi-farmer-turned fundraising guru at Magaziner Farm in Bristol several months ago to discuss how she weaves two passions— yoga and food—into a tight, elegant fabric that not only keeps her and her family warm but also helps those in need around the state.
A longtime yoga teacher and community garden manager, Rubio, 43, first had the idea to blend the two in 2009. Her nonprofit Yogis Feed the Hungry (YFtH) was born of the idea that yoga studios (with yoga’s ever-growing popularity) are an untapped resource to galvanize support for food-related causes.
The basic premise: Encourage independent yoga studios to host special fee-as-donation classes and to collect food for their local food banks. Since 2010, 14 studios in four states, seven of them in Rhode Island, have raised more than $10,000 and countless pounds of food. In Rhode Island, all funds raised from YFtH events go to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank (RICFB).
It’s a tidy circle that Rubio has skillfully drawn. The fundraising experience from YFtH made Rubio a shoo-in for the farm manager position at Magaziner Farm, a community farm currently under the auspices of RICFB. She began there in 2011 and the position involves as much grant writing as planting and harvesting. Last year, she raised $6,000 in grants from New England Grass Roots, Roger Williams University and East Bay Food Pantry, which helped the farm grow 12,000 pounds of produce, 100% of which was donated. Ten years ago the land was given to RICFB by the Magaziner family for the purpose of growing food for the food-insecure. The bounty of tomatoes, eggplants, summer and Pattypan squash, peppers, green beans and kale Rubio helps coax out of the 1.5 acre plot of land goes straight to local food pantries, usually the nearby East Bay Food Pantry and Bristol Good Neighbors.
Growing food specifically for a pantry is a lot different than growing for markets or CSAs. “We grow just the basics; we’re not looking to do anything fancy,” Rubio said. “We grow what people will recognize, know what to do with, will transport well and maybe be able to store for a couple days. 175,000 people in Rhode Island are using SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program]. That’s a lot for our little state. The need is increasing, and some food banks are servicing 55,000 people a month.”
A FRUITFUL RELATIONSHIP
Another aspect of her local food and yoga synthesis are the volunteers Rubio gets to work the land with her. In addition to students from local schools, East Bay Community Action Program, AmeriCorps interns, Brown University staff and even Bank of America employees, this season she’s working with yoga studios to organize groups of yogis to come and volunteer at the farm as a “Garden Seva Day,” or day of service. Thames Street Yoga of Newport is even incorporating volunteering on the farm into its teacher-training program.
“The whole idea of seva [Sanskrit for “selfless service”] is a foundation of yoga,” Rubio explained. “It gives people an opportunity to give back locally, to their community, to actually see where their money’s going and who it’s servicing. It’s an opportunity to do yoga and feel good about it!”
On the interrelationship between yoga and local, sustainably grown food, Rubio said, “People who are drawn to doing yoga have a more grounded sense of what a well-rounded being is—you exercise, take care of yourself. And once you’re doing that, it just makes sense to eat well.”
Rubio’s vision for the future is to further harmonize the two movements. “Eventually we’d love to grow this program, including teaching yoga at food banks and food pantries that have the space,” she said. “I’ve spoken to East Bay Food Pantry and Bristol Good Neighbors about teaching classes, just like having their clients come here to work on the farm, really integrating it to give everybody the opportunity to not only eat the food but also share in the yoga.”
Magaziner Farm is in the process of becoming its own nonprofit organization so it can apply for bigger grants. Rubio hopes to raise money for an irrigation system so her volunteers don’t have to lug water in heavy cans. Meanwhile, Yogis Feed the Hungry is going full steam ahead, with a sister branch opening last year in New Jersey and yoga outfitter giant Lululemon hosting an event last fall.
Rubio is still slightly shocked at how everything in her life has come together. She said, “I can still do the yoga, the fundraising, farming, feeding the hungry directly, not just raising funds but giving them food. I’ve always believed in healthy, nutritious, quality food that everybody should have. And it kind of became my life mission—I just had no idea that it would end up looking like this.”