An interview with Providence Associate Janice Lilly
I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Janice Lilly, one of our Providence Associates, regarding the life experiences that led her to request a grant from the Sisters of Providence Poverty Justice Fund in 2014.
The project submitted involved the Bloomington Winter Farmer’s Market and providing access to healthy food for those less privileged. Janice and her husband, Cary Buzzelli, had funded the project themselves during its first year.
How did you and your husband come to have such a passion about healthy food?
It has been very longstanding for both of us. I was a member of the Sevananda food co-op in Atlanta in the 1970s and helped start a buying club at UCLA before that.
When our first child was born in 1990, we saw a Frontline presentation about organic and industrial farming, learning that the “safe” chemical levels were set by the USDA for 180-pound men. We immediately made the switch to as much organic food as we could get, which was limited in Birmingham, Alabama, at that time.
When we moved to Bloomington in 1993, we were delighted to discover the farmers’ market and we joined the food co-op here immediately. Since that time, I have served on the boards of both our summer and winter farmers’ markets and the food co-op. This past summer, I started farming with a group of women. Now, about 90 percent of the food we eat comes from local farms.
What life experiences made you sensitive to those who find access to health food a challenge?
I grew up in Alabama, where my parents were very engaged in the civil rights movement, so I have always had an awareness and commitment to those who have so much less than I do. My love of cooking, my concern for the environment, and my social justice background came very naturally together in my work to make healthful food more available to all people.
You have also incorporated some prevention efforts with teaching high school students about food and cooking.
Watching my own children eat, as they became teenagers, has certainly made me concerned about the diets of young people! I am pleased to say, that with my own children, they have moved into very good diets as they moved into their 20s.
I wish I could take credit for the idea of making the CSA available to the teenage group – but it came from Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard and Banneker Community Center, and we were certainly delighted to be able to fund it!
You have connected this effort for sustainability with the Sisters of Providence land ethic. Can you say something more about that?
My first connection with the Sisters of Providence was Sister Mary Alice Zander, whom I met at a retreat in Bloomington. After the retreat, she was my spiritual director for about five years until she moved back to Chicago.
While my connection to Sister Mary Alice was very important to me, it was the order’s commitment to and belief in caring for the land and sustainability that made me feel connected to the order as a whole. As I have developed and deepened my own commitment to sustainability, I have always understood this in terms of environmental, social and economic sustainability and justice. This is exactly the vision I see in the Land Ethic.
Can you describe some satisfying results you have seen from your efforts?
I cannot imagine how one can be involved with feeding people and not find it satisfying! Whether it is the food I cook for my own family or my son and 15 of his friends, for guests or for strangers (providing food for the Circles dinners in Bloomington), I always feel there is a deeply spiritual aspect to what I do.
As to being able to buy food from farmers to donate, it is one of those ventures that has seemed to work out well in every aspect: It provides the farmers with an opportunity at least to cover the cost of perishable food that they otherwise would lose money on (and, I am sure you are aware, most small farmers cannot afford to lose money!).
It provides fresh, healthful food to organizations in our community who are serving people in need; it has given me an opportunity to do some education about food and sustainability, both through fundraising and through some of our programs. Every week, when my husband and I go on Saturdays to The Rise, a residence for abused women, and to the Community Kitchen, I feel like I am operating an old-fashioned vegetable cart, pulling up with my products and saying, ‘What would you like to have today?” That is satisfying!