When I arrive at Alondra Ramirez’s house in Johnston County, she’s in the kitchen cooking fresh eggs. “And I added a little organic agave,” she says with a bright young smile. “And you’ve got to try this honey from Mexico!” She hands me my own jar.
For Alondra, 26, food and cooking is a primary way we connect with the earth – and with each other. As part of the Down Home Fellowship program, Alondra has had the opportunity to touch different kinds of organizing, from deep canvassing to mobilization to local chapter engagement. The Fellowship has given her perspective on not just on where she’s going but also where she’s from.
Both her mother and step-father are Mexican immigrants, and her family and history have been a great source of strength. She was born in California but moved to North Carolina when she was only 8 months old. Her family moved to Johnston County, N.C. in search of a better life, but that also meant moving away from traditional ways of living.
“For the longest time I didn’t think I had a story to tell,” she says. “Because it’s just our way of living and how we’ve learned to adapt.” But now, as a young adult, she finds herself looking to her roots in order to keep growing.
The land is the source
Connecting to the land runs in her family. Alondra’s great grandmother Patcha was from Pastoria, Zacatecas, a small town northwest of Mexico City. She used homegrown herbal remedies and helped women give birth. Her step-father bought whole animals for food sources, like goats and chickens. He would hunt deer, too. “He was the person to actually create that connection to nature and continues to help me when it comes to gardening,” Alondra says.
After moving away to Illinois for a few years after high school, Alondra returned home to Johnston County. “I missed my mom,” she says.
It was her mom Maria who introduced her to Rosa Saavedra, who started Compañeras Campesinas. The organization began as a mutual aid group for Latina women in North Carolina but has expanded into a vision for self-sustaining gardens with exchanges in Puerto Rico, too. Working with her mom and Rosa, Alondra began to see new possibilities for getting personally involved. She connect people with the natural world around them.
“Farming and growing your own food is the best way to keep yourself alive,” says Alondra. “But it’s just the beginning.”
Through trips to Puerto Rico, where they gather seeds and farm in different island climates, Alondra saw the relationship between the land, food, and human communities. It’s not about transactions; it’s about nourishing each other.
“Connecting to the earth is very healing for the person and the soul,” she says.
An introvert’s gifts for others
Quiet and observing, Alondra says she’s emotional and sensitive to the world around her. As an introvert, she’s taken time to connect and know herself. That self-connection is a seed that has truly started to grow. The more she’s connected with the past, the people, and the opportunities around her, the more she’s wanted to help others connect in her quiet way.
She sees the systems around her failing to serve real human needs. Now she’s learned how she can help.
“I want to share that aspect of myself and allow people to feel safe in that space with me,” she says. “Growing up I didn’t have that safety of feeling like I could be myself, so I want to create that for other people.” One of the best ways she’s been able to do that is through gardening and community building.
“It’s perfect,” she says. “You can do it in your own space or you can do it in a community garden.” Along with Down Home organizer Liz, Alondra has begun working at the community garden in Johnston County. Her hopes are to connect other folks to the power of becoming self-sustaining through growing food.
“It’s so healing but also so pleasing for the soul to just grow your own food and to know that you did this and you did this together with the earth. The earth could find a way to live without us, but we can’t live without it. There’s so much we can learn from it. We can’t just take and not give back.”
Photo: Down Home Fellow Alondra Ramirez in front of her garden in Johnston County, North Carolina.