Who has two green thumbs and are looking to make a difference? College students, that’s who.
Although First Lady Michelle Obama has recently taken the gardening spotlight with the release of her new book, American Grown, college campuses across the country have engaged in an initiative similar to the First Lady’s to educate college-aged students about the importance of locally grown food from both an environmental and nutritional standpoint.
Madaline Goldstein, a senior at Northwestern University, recalls reading New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded, as part of Northwestern’s ‘One Book One Northwestern’ campaign which encourages incoming freshman to participate in discourse concerning a current issue in society.
Friedman’s book takes a look at two pressing problems: America’s loss of purpose in the post 9/11 era and the global environmental crisis. Students and faculty at Northwestern sought to do their part in remedying these problems and established the Wild Roots Garden.
“To address climate change and greenhouse gases, students, professors and departments came together and we started a small garden to address one component of climate change — food sources,” Goldstein said. “We want NU members to see where food comes from, the processes that take place for food to grow and how doable it is to grow food.”
An interest in farming and food sustainability was also a catalyst for the development of the Smith College community garden, explained Smith senior Laura Sheys.
Sheys, who is a studio art major, had never had the opportunity to garden and learn about homegrown food production prior to arriving at Smith, although it is something that interests her. Because of the garden, Sheys is able to further develop her interest in plant science and sustainability -– something she probably wouldn’t be learning as an art major.
Like the Wild Roots Garden at NU, Sheys describes Smith’s community garden as primarily an educational tool for the student body.
“Everyone I talk to about the garden is really excited about it being here — I think that having a garden on campus that students have built themselves gives people a sense of ownership,” Sheys said.
“Academic classes are really connected to the garden too. Students have done special studies about the garden and classes in landscape studies, horticulture, art, engineering and environmental science can relate to the garden and fulfill a need of hands-on learning that fits in really well with what students are doing in the classroom.”
In addition to serving as an educational tool for students in terms of climate change and sustainability, community
gardens also serve the surrounding community as a local food source for those in need.
The Farm at Stonehill College was established in February 2011 to do just that.
“We donate 100% of our organically grown produce to organizations that distribute food to our neighbors in need,” said Farm Manager Bridget Meigs. “In our first season we grew and donated over 12,000 pounds to over 3,000 individuals through three main partners in Brockton, Mass. which has areas that have been designated as ‘food deserts’ — areas that have limited access to fresh and affordable food.”
Student volunteers at The Farm noticed the immediate impact the community garden has had on the campus community — an impact seen at Northwestern, Smith and at the multitude of campuses across the country.
“Students are able to grapple with the issues of hunger and food access in a way that educates the students and benefits the greater community,” Stonehill junior Greg Szczesuil said.
While the gardening initiative at colleges and by the First Lady certainly brings awareness to a pressing issue in the country, Goldstein believes that more can be done.
“A garden program can be extended to other government buildings, and on a legislative level, the next Farm Bill could increase subsidies to vegetable and fruit farmers,” she said.
So, while many will be flocking to the book shelves to read about the First Lady’s garden initiative and join in on the sustainable food conversation for the first time, our nation’s college students will be continuing the conversation.
They’re growing more than just vegetables and produce they’re growing the nation’s environmental future, one seed at a time.
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