Putting it all in focus: Summer Research Spotlight on Jessica Kennedy

Into The Field

Written by Jessica Kennedy

I decided to apply for a SURF grant on a whim, brainstorming one night about all the things I’d love to study and research if I only had the time, if I only had the money, if I only had a reason. I heard about the SURF program from a friend, and consequently spent weeks hammering away at my application, trying to express in just a few pages why what I was proposing was, in some way, valuable.

Jessica Kennedy

For the past few years, I’ve become increasingly passionate about local food and sustainable agriculture. I grew up in very small town just outside of Boone, N.C., near the Tennessee and Virginia borders. A love for the land and what it can produce has always existed within me, but it wasn’t until I moved away from home that the switch in my mind really clicked. As I was working on my SURF grant application, it became more and more clear that agriculture and food had to be the center points of my project.

This summer I am seeking to connect Watauga County’s agricultural past to the ways the community is currently working together to fight hunger issues, focusing in particular on the FARM Café, a new restaurant in Boone operating on a pay-what-you-can basis. To begin the project, I’ve been doing historical research about agriculture throughout the 1900s in Watauga County and the surrounding High Country area. I’ve done interviews with leaders of the FARM Café and created a survey for the restaurant’s patrons to fill out on a volunteer basis. By the end of the summer, many interviews and hours of research and analysis from now, I hope to provide a clear and concise explanation of how and why the FARM Café fits into the community.

It has only been one month since I began work on the project, but it has already taken on a different shape. I’ve added components I didn’t originally plan on – the FARM Café customer survey and a soon-to-begin cost comparison of food in the grocery store to food at the farmers market – and taken away some things that aren’t as necessary as I once thought. My list of people to interview is constantly changing – growing, shrinking, names replacing other names. Some things have gone slower, while others have been accomplished in no time. At the beginning of this project, I felt like my research stretched endlessly and frighteningly in front of me, but now that I’ve started, it seems so much more manageable.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned so far is that even though I’m researching and studying something that I’m extraordinarily passionate about, it’s still hard work, and it still takes time, motivation, determination and discipline. There are hang-ups and scheduling issues and meetings that don’t go as planned. But so far, it’s been extremely rewarding, and I’m excited to see how the next two months play out.

Jessica Kennedy
UNC-Chapel Hill rising senior
Major: journalism; minor: French