Sarah and Steve at a volunteer induction

A fresh start: volunteer inductions at Alfalfa House

Steve Sobolewski is a data analyst by day, and a writer and food fanatic by night. We’re lucky to now have him as a regular contributor to our blog where he’ll chronicle for us his journey into the world of sustainable food. In his first blog post, Steve talks about his experience on a recent volunteer induction at Alfalfa House.

In the above image, Steve is pictured on his volunteer induction with Sarah.

On a sunny but brisk Saturday morning I walk into Newtown’s food co-op, Alfalfa House, and announce with my best new-boy-at-school smile that I’m here for the volunteer induction.

“Hooray!” responds the excited woman behind the counter. I’ll later be introduced to her as Yue. If you go into the store you’ll recognize her as the cheerful lady looking busy, although that description would suit a lot of the people working here. My first impression on entering is how friendly everybody is. Sarah, who runs the induction sessions welcomes us with a beaming smile, and invites us to look around while she finishes up. She has a warm and friendly manner, it’s clear to see why she does all the inductions. I wander between the loaded shelves, surprising myself by learning how many different types of rice exist. And I had no idea that quinoa was so numerous in varieties.  

Another volunteer steps through the door. “Yay! Another tall one!” Yue calls. (Apparently they’ve had a shortage of volunteers able to reach some of the higher shelves.)  

Sarah invites us to walk through the office, into the storeroom and out into the garden. We take a seat in a small corner of the garden that has a table and some chairs set out in the sunshine. The garden is controlled chaos. A stack of boxes in one corner, bins along one wall, a large metal awning camped out in the middle of what could have been or will be a vegetable patch. It is busy, but there is an order to everything. Stacks of boxes, containers of compost, laundry hangers, wormeries. Everything has its purpose. Sarah explains to us what Alfalfa House is all about and gives us a bit of history.

Sarah tells us that a while ago  Alfalfa House came close to closing. A lot of time was spent looking at what Alfalfa House was doing, could it continue and if so how? Its members overwhelmingly agreed that it was a necessary part of the community. 

It surprises me to hear that its doors almost closed. Right now the shop feels alive, people are constantly coming and going. While we are being shown around the store room, a mother with her children comes through the back door to deliver some beeswax cloths. Maurice, the manager (and one of the many driving forces behind Alfalfa House’s success), stops by to collect a trolley of things to take to a local waste reduction festival. Alfalfa buzzes with the effort of the people inside it. It feels like a community. Sarah explains to us that Alfalfa House relies on its volunteers to keep going and it was only through increasing that reliance and utilizing them more, that it stayed open.

We are shown around the rest of the shop and have a lot of information given to us. Health and safety tips, where things are, what things are, what might happen, emergency exits are here, here and here. I’m feeling energized in a way I hadn’t expected, ready to get involved and so I sign up for a shift. Saturday morning, a time usually devoted to not getting up. I had originally come to the induction because my wife asked me if I’d like to write a blog for a place she had been devoting a lot of time to. Now I was ready to devote a few hours of my own, in addition to writing about it.

Since then I have worked my first volunteer shift at Alfalfa House and I loved every minute of it. The sense of committing and contributing to something that in the small scale benefits the neighborhood and the community, supports ethical producers and does its part to keep the world going is worth it.

Before I continue with my blog posts I should make a few admissions. I am not a vegan, or a vegetarian. I don’t know a huge amount about what the requirements are for something to be considered organic. I don’t know what vegetables are in season, I can make an educated guess on what foods are gluten free and only within the last few years have I found out what tofu is actually made of. I am someone who loves food. I’m also someone who has, over the last few years, started to learn about my impact on the world and the environment and what I can do to minimize it. I don’t claim to be any kind of expert but I’m learning. I volunteer on Saturday mornings so if you come to an induction I’ll probably meet you. Everyone is welcome!

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