Michael Ochoa: Growing food and building community with the African Alliance of Rhode Island

“There is a lot that goes into planning these events, from the actual harvesting of the veggies to mapping out the layout of where each tent will be set up, and I got involved in the entire process,” he said. “What I loved most about this internship is that I saw the fruits of my labor pay off. My behind-the-scenes work culminated in an actual event, and I saw the community enjoy their time at a farmers market. That combination of office and hands-on work through the various activities I engaged in at AARI made this a standout experience.”

To help AARI build operational capacity, Ochoa created a market checklist and a how-to manual for running the pop-up events.

“For me, the greatest challenge was that much of the knowledge I needed wasn’t written down anywhere, and it existed in the heads of the professionals I worked with,” he said. “My goal with the manual is to provide a comprehensive introduction to managing the farmers markets. It covers all the topics I encountered in my time, imparting tips and tricks on how to go about organizing AARI’s pop-ups in conjunction with the market checklist template.”

Ochoa, a Pawtucket, R.I., native, aspires to work in public service. As a child of Colombian immigrants, it was important to him to contribute to communities facing challenges similar to those that he and his family have endured, including poverty and threats of deportation, he said.

“I wanted to connect and give back to people who face the same struggles that I have and contribute to these communities in a meaningful way,” Ochoa said.

He also credits the internship for illustrating how organizations like AARI create a foundation for successful and meaningful community engagement.

“Cultivating authentic community connection isn’t something you can learn by reading a book,” he said. “When you encounter someone with a language barrier, the only way you get better at communicating with them is by continuing to do it. I am happy I have had the chance to meet and work with the African Alliance farmers. The experience will stay with me forever.”

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