When people ask Sara Trunzo, ’08, where she’s from, there isn’t a question in her mind what the answer is: Unity, Maine. Despite growing up in New Jersey, Trunzo has spent the better part of her young life in Unity, serving in various roles on campus both before and after graduation before becoming the director of Veggies for All at Maine Farmland Trust, a Unity-based food bank farm that grows vegetables, works with local hunger relief agencies to distribute food, and provides produce to food insecure neighbors in central Maine.
“I made it my home. I have much more resonance with that community than I ever did back in New Jersey,” she said. “It was the experience of living in a community where I really saw myself as someone who could make decisions about what happens there.”
“At Unity I really learned how to get where you want to go when there’s not already a road map to where you’re going.”
From 2009 to late 2016, Trunzo applied that self-starter attitude to her work with Veggies for All, growing “something very small into a fixture of the community.” In her time there she expanded productivity to the point where the organization was serving upwards of 1,500 people, turning what she qualifies as a “kind of crazy business model” of giving food to those in need into a thriving non-profit.
Working in hunger relief made it easy for Trunzo to fill her plate with “work, work, work.” Immediately helping the people in her community who had the most need and “changing the world for the better” made her feel there was nothing more important in life. But, Trunzo said, “after a while, it just stopped feeding me.” So when an upset in her personal life involving a 10-year relationship turned her world upside down, she took it as a moment to really step back and assess the direction of her life.
Inspired by the people who relied on Veggies for All, and frustrated by the fact that their stories never seemed to make it into the public eye as often as she felt they deserved, Trunzo reassessed the creative writing skills evidenced by her environmental writing degree from Unity and eventually settled on alternative country music as an appropriate venue for their tales of rural, northern agriculture and extreme poverty.
“I do know how crazy that sounds and it’s like, ‘Whoo, this person has lost it,’” she said. “But I think that Unity College is, like, so in my blood that there’s a little part of me that thought, ‘I come from this community that believed they could turn a chicken farm into America’s Environmental College.’ And they did it. So to me it doesn’t sound that crazy to turn a food system community organizer into a successful songwriter.”
“There’s something in our lineage that is so completely about reinvention and innovation, and kind of the audacity to say: why not? Why not try to make the future we want most of all instead of settling for the one that we just happened to end up with?”
So in early January 2017, Trunzo packed her bags and headed down to Nashville, Tenn., to try her hand at a career in country music. She feels the genre currently over-romanticizes life on a farm, and really hopes to bring a deeper, grittier perspective to the music. During her experiences in Unity, Trunzo didn’t run into a lot of men who sat back and drank beer while driving their tractors. To her it was mostly women driving around with babies on their hips, often running a whole business single-handedly. And as she likes to say, “The dirt’s not red where I come from.”
Trunzo definitely recognizes the challenges of a music career and is trying to keep her goals more realistic. For her it’s more about spreading the stories of real rural people, and she has no interest in “being featured in a beer commercial” or “becoming the next Miranda Lambert.” That said, this new path certainly still has its challenges, and she knows she’s only at the very beginning of the journey. But she feels ready.
“My education at Unity was about trying to find a way when you don’t know the way,” Trunzo said. “And those are skills that are transferrable. If the next thing I want to do is be an astronaut, I don’t know how to do that, but I know there must be a way. The answer is never that there’s no way to do it.”
Trunzo’s debut EP will be available on July 1st, 2017. More information can be found at saratrunzo.com.