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Alumni Spotlight: Livvy Call (’14)

February 21, 2018 / Catherine Nicholas / Blog

Livvy Call (’14) is one of the young alumni we’re looking forward to having back at MLWGS for Alumni Showcase on March 30, 2018.  Livvy is currently a senior at JMU, where she is majoring in Dietetics.  In high school, she was very involved with languages, taking Spanish through AP, as well as two years of French and three years of Italian (one of which was at VCU).  She cites international language teacher Susan Hefty as a particularly influential teacher.  “I went to Italy twice and Spain once with Ms. Hefty, and I just love her.  It meant a lot to me to see Ms. Hefty live her passions through travel and food,” Livvy says.  “I also took the Mediterranean Gastronomy seminar, which is when I started researching food issues.  I wrote my final big paper on the politics of corn and Emilia Romana.  We learned about all kinds of cool topics, like food in jail and Inuit food.”    If you’re wondering whether than had an effect on what she pursued in college, the short answer is y-e-s.

Speaking of college, Livvy was waitlisted at UVA and William & Mary, admitted to JMU, and offered a scholarship with admission to Dickinson College.  When she picked JMU, she’d never even visited the campus, but now, she says, “I can’t see myself anywhere else.  It’s ended up being so amazing.”  She could hardly be a better example of what it means to make the most out of your college experience.

Much of what has made her college experience so good are opportunities she pursued outside the classroom.  “Maggie Walker taught me to be a super hard worker, and I started college with a great foundation in math, writing, critical thinking,” she says.  “I was able to step back and think more after I wasn’t so bogged down by workload.  I’ve been able to say yes to a lot of extracurriculars that have been a huge part of my experience here.”

As a freshman, Livvy started attending club meetings for Dietetics majors.  After one meeting, during which a speaker pitched an idea to start a new club that repurposed unused food into meals for food insecure community members, Livvy and others began to think differently about how a club can make an impact.  “We started from zero and over the past three years we’ve built the club into what it is now.  That was a really great part to the start of my college career, in that it got me thinking and getting me more involved in the university itself.”  That project is called Campus Kitchen at JMU, and is the 62nd chapter of the national Campus Kitchens Project.

As a member of the Campus Kitchen at JMU leadership team, she has worked on fundraising (she recently won a grant for the organization) and establishing relationships in the community.    “A big part of what I like is connecting with populations facing poverty,” she says.  “We do Campus Kitchen meals at Salvation Army, and I get to sit with people there just to talk.  It’s been humbling.  I’ve appreciated those experiences so much.”

Livvy took a gap semester unusually early in her college career, just after finishing freshman year.  First, she enrolled in a two-week sustainable farming course in New York.  She spent one week in the city, learning about sustainable farming in urban locations by exploring a rooftop farm in the Brooklyn Naval Yard, a hydroponic farm, and other urban farming experiments.  She spent the second week in the Hudson Valley at Hawthorne Valley Farm, a biodynamic farm, where she farmed and continued her education cheesemaking and other culinary arts.  Afterwards, she went to cooking school on a 100-acre organic farm in Ireland for a twelve-week course.  “I did farm rotations, cooked, and learned how to make things from scratch, like sauerkraut, sourdough, cheese, stews, broths.  I learned how to forage, how to butcher a chicken, and how to do real countryside cooking, where you start with the raw ingredient and create a finished project.”

The summer after her sophomore year, Livvy attended the Morven Summer Institute at UVA, where she took a two-week class the Politics of Food.  “We were at an incredible location that is nestled just by Carter’s Mountain orchard and has restricted access, so it’s pretty private and surrounded by the mountains.  I learned SO much about the food system, and gained a unique perspective coming back to the Dietetics program after that back at JMU,” she says.  “We got to hear Mrs. McAuliffe give a speech one of the last days we were at the Institute too!  I had never had to do so much reading DAILY before because we were assigned over 100 pages of reading from various sources (Michael Pollan, government reports, Wyndell Berry, ag companies, a food politics book, etc) every day, ON TOP of going to class from 9-3 every day.  It was quite a time, and I ate up every second of it!”  This all despite the fact that the MSI program is normally only open to UVA students!  “That’s where I was exposed to more of what’s going on in Virginia with the food system, and I left feeling my sense of purpose, which was pretty cool.”

When she got back to JMU, she found that her time away from school as well as some other life events had catalyzed some personal growth.  “On top of all this farming stuff, on top of cooking and all that, I also was doing really well in college academically.  My chemistry professor reached out to me after I did well in his class to ask if I would want to help with the class the next semester’s worth of Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS).”  Livvy said yes and became the leader for Gen Chem II PASS sessions.  “That was really cool because I’ve always loved learning so much, but this made me facilitate study strategies to help students.  That has really gotten me into the learning process and being a leader within a classroom.  I realized recently that I have almost 90 hours of public speaking experience because of the time I’ve put into PASS.”

Thanks to her success with and dedication to PASS, Livvy was asked to create a job for herself with the organization.  She is now in charge of professional development for thirty-eight PASS leaders, bringing in speakers and finding ways to facilitate improvement in the leaders.

Last spring, she was selected as one of six members of the inaugural cohort of the Creative Fellows at JMU.  The cohort made up of students in different majors worked on an interdisciplinary project creating ways to connect community in the agriculture world.  “I’d been taking science-heavy curriculum, and this opened up the world a little bit more for me,” Livvy says.   “We collaborated a lot and came up with many different ideas for projects for the community.  From this process, I got the idea to do something that involved bringing farmers to JMU and having students engage with them.  Last fall I applied for a student engagement grant for $2,130, which I won in December.  We’ll be putting together a meal for 100 people in April where local farmers will share their passion about what they do, and where people can connect the food they’re eating with these farmers.  I don’t think I would have thought of this if I hadn’t done Creative Fellows.”

Livvy is also part of GIVE Volunteers at JMU.  She credits this work with “shifting my way of thinking as a student and a person.”  With GIVE, she went to Thailand and Laos for a full month this past summer for a trip focused on sustainable infrastructure, education, and permaculture.  “We were working with a community to help them make their community better in a very conscious way,” she explains.  “Permaculture is a holistic and synergistic approach in which everything works together to cultivate an ecosystem in the soil and in the air.  A lot of it is about water management to avoid erosion and things like that.  It’s about finding solutions that work for the needs of the place itself.”

If you were worried she wasn’t doing enough, Livvy also teaches 9th graders how to cook in the Emerging Chef Program at a local high school.  The program is free to students and part of an On The Road Collaborative after-school program.  “All of my kids are in Harrisonburg, and there’s lots of resettled refugees,” she explains.  “There are about fifty different languages spoken at the high school.  All my students are from around the world—Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico.  I mostly teach girls, and I love hearing about their lives and families and cultures.”

Livvy has also served as an Alternative Weekend Break leader.  “I took eight people to a farm called Plenty! Farm that was also a food bank in Floyd, VA.  We were working on a farm and I was facilitating reflection about the experience.”  She’s looking forward to leading another weekend break at the end of March to a farm in the DC area.

So what’s next for Livvy?  Many of her classmates in her major will be pursuing licensing to work as dietitians, but she doesn’t plan to join them yet.  “My passion is for sustainability and sustainable food, and it’s too strong for me to want to be in a clinical setting right now.  What I’m in the process of setting up is an Engagement Fellowship through JMU.  The way I would explain it is that it’s kind of like AmeriCorps but through the university.”  She is working both to set the parameters of the year-long position and to secure the funding for it.  “I’m trying to think about what I want to do and what’s needed,” she explains.  She plans at least to start a campus garden and to continue her work with Campus Kitchen as well as with other food-and-sustainability-related clubs.  “I’m not exactly sure what’s going to be after that,” she says.  “I’m going to trust that it’s going to be okay. Anything that aligns me with education and food equity and being able to be around people—as long as I’m moving in that direction—that’ll keep me happy.”

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