Student Voices: A Garden of Opportunities

A Garden of Opportunities
By Benjamin Hunt


In the summer of 2017, I did an Internship at the Sustainable Agriculture Project (SAP) where I used my videography and photography assets to help the Community Garden fulfill its mission to better market it to Students and Faculty on Campus at Grand Valley State University (GVSU).  I directed and edited weekly videos that documented the projects being worked on at the SAP by interns and volunteer Students which were then posted to the SAP’s Facebook page.  All followers of the Facebook page were able to see on site progress of projects through videos and photos. I also created an Instagram page for the SAP, meant for daily pictures of  farm tasks, and the people involved, which gained over 300 GVSU student followers!  The Instagram page now has just under 500 followers and rising, where Students can also see, first hand what the SAP has to offer.
Another video that I did consisted of an intro that will be used for future videos at the community garden.  I also did a video showcasing how students on campus get their food and the role that plays with the Sustainable Agriculture Project which was recently shared at the GVSU Sustainability Showcase event.  Out of all the things I did, my most accomplished work is the 20 minute Documentary that I directed, captured and edited for the SAP.  This Documentary showcased what is so special about the community garden and how it relates to students on campus.  The Documentary shows student volunteers, the Farm Manager, the Chef from Engrained and interns as well as various projects worked on in the summer. This can be viewed on my  social media page.

As for my day to day life as a SAP intern, my schedule would consist of showing up in the morning and volunteering for anywhere between thirty minutes to two hours depending on what was happening for that day.  We would meet in the Wesley house and talk about the goals and objectives for the week.  After volunteering, interns would go off to work on those objectives, it was a thematic and organized plan for the week that worked very well.  I spent time taking photographs and recording videos after volunteering and interviewing some of the volunteers and interns to record what was happening at the SAP for marketing purposes.  Realistically, I spent an estimate of twenty-five hours a week on this internship.  My job specifically, was to keep tabs and updates on everyone else’s projects through my videos.  
            This internship relates to many of the Environmental classes that I’ve taken in terms of things that were learned being implemented in the field.  Most specifically, my ENS 401 Environmental Problem Solving course where our client was the SAP.  I used what I learned from my internship to help cater to the farm in ways of improvement in terms of marketing and awareness on campus. For this class, my  group project aimed to help assist in means of transportation to and from the farm, from campus. We idealized creating a shuttle system, that would not only provide students with better accessibility to the SAP, it would also provide marketing to the students on campus bringing more people to the Sustainable Agriculture Project to help cater to its ideals and goals.  We wanted to improve accessibility, diversify learning options for students and instructors, and create a sustainable campus that can be enjoyed by future generations.  Between the ENS course and my internship, my involvement with the Sustainable Agriculture Project has been significant in terms of my time spent at Grand Valley State University.

I’m glad to say that I did exactly what I set out to do in this internship, by bringing marketing and awareness to the SAP in a very interactive and visual way.  It has been a wonderful experience.  I was able to be a valuable asset to the Sustainable Agriculture Project, gain relationships with those around me, gain a deeper understanding of environmental and sustainable practices and also further build my own photography and videography credentials. I highly recommend the farm as an internship site for any student, regardless of major.  One of the great things that I learned is how the SAP can be a beneficial site for learning and personal growth for everyone, no matter what their career choices are.  For video and photo interns specifically, it is a terrific opportunity to gain experience, as  there are always new projects, allowing for opportunities to capture and share with the rest of the campus community.
            The Sustainable Agriculture Project showed me the importance of a community garden and the role that one plays in society.  It is a model for how a community should be ran in a city and how people are able to work together to achieve something great.  I will take the experience and values learned from this internship and apply them to my future in terms of marketing, working effectively in a team, sustainable and environmental practices and most importantly how these things relate to society today.

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Student Voice: Day in the life of the Farm Crew

IMG-7419Hello! My name is Krista Affholter. I am a member of the Farm Crew as well as the lead student intern at the Sustainable Agriculture Project, aka, the SAP, for the 2017-2018 season. I am studying Natural Resource Management with a minor in Environmental Studies. My niche at the SAP is the medicinal garden but as a Farm Crew Intern, my responsibilities are to the farm as a whole. What does a day in the life of a Farm Crew intern look like in the summer? Let me walk you through it!

Monday mornings are my favorite here! We start off bright and early with an intern meeting. This is where we set the tone for the week and update one another on the progress of various projects and tasks that are currently taking place. Following the meeting, with coffee in hand, we do a farm walk as the sun rises. As we walk around we create a goal list of the various tasks that need to be addressed that week. It’s the one day that you truly touch every corner of the property and really get to see how everything is coming together. Once we finish the farm walk, we divide and conquer the tasks for the day. Volunteer hours open around this time in the morning so various GVSU community members will then come out and lend a helping hand to whatever is being done that day.

Tuesday’s are harvest days! Typically 1-2 people will set up our wash and pack station while others hit the fields first thing in the morning. As the season goes on, Tuesday’s become very streamlined as we learn each others strengths around the farm. While harvesting is going on, some interns stay back at the wash and pack station, washing the incoming produce to later be bunched or bagged up for the farmers market the following day. The others out in the fields will be seeing the results of all of the baby seeds they planted that have now become full-sized, mature adults!

IMG-8078-2Wednesday’s are Farmers Market days! We start the morning off harvesting flowers and herbs while the sun rises. The truck then gets loaded up with all of our produce and market supplies we need to take to campus. Once we get there, the farm stand gets set up, flower arrangements are made, and the CSA shares are put together. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. The CSA shares are essentially weekly grocery bags filled up with fresh produce from the farm that week. The farmers market is the main time we are able to connect with our customers as well as the other local farmers who join us at the market. During the farmers market, we also take our mobile market around campus to deliver our CSA shares. We will also load up our mobile market with some produce to sell on-the-go to the various students and staff we may pass along the way. The farmers market wraps up at 1pm and we return back to the farm for an evening volunteer hours shift where we will pick our goal list back up for the week.  

Thursday’s and Friday’s are relatively similar because they are solely dedicated to our open volunteer hours. The work will consist of things such as pruning, trellacing, spreading compost, planting seeds, working on specialty projects, etc. The volunteer hours always provide extra hands, allowing for the bulk of our goal list for the week to get completed!

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There is never a truly dull moment out at the SAP. The work isn’t just rewarding aesthetically either, but also physically, mentally, and emotionally. There is something about getting your hands dirty and creating something out of nothing that is so therapeutic. It helps foster and create a better relationship between man and nature that we so often divide. I would highly recommend doing an internship at the SAP. The work experience and the memories I have made here are one of a kind! We are truly blessed to have a space like this at GVSU.

Student Voice: Where is the Next Generation of Farmers?

SAP Potluck-6
Photo by Chelsea Kattleman

Hi! I’m Danielle Warren – Writing major and Environmental Studies minor.  I’m also the social media intern for the SAP.

Increasing population, drought, soil depletion, genetically modified organisms, and other realities have anyone who knows about them on even a surface level wondering about what food—its taste, its production, its distribution—is going to look like in the years to come. In the sea of unknown consequences that accompany climate change, the variability of food is arguably amongst the scariest. One factor of its future that I foolishly had not considered before is the availability of the next generation of farmers. The average age of a U.S. farmer is 58 years old. According to the most recent census from the USDA in 2012, only 6% of farmers are under the age of 35. (There are more over 75 than are between 35-44!) (1)

An obvious first question is what is deterring young people from this vocation? Is it that millennials are too detached from the “natural world” to care about farming? Is it that we are more aware of the alternatives, less intensive careers for a higher profit? Is it that we know more of the impact agriculture has on resources and are thus cautious to contribute? These may be valid, but more straightforward than that, a major deterrent is cost. In 2015, the USDA reported the average U.S. acre of farmland to be priced at approximately $3,000. Equipment tacks on roughly another few hundred thousand (2), and the hestience is further compounded by a worry articulated by SAP student volunteer Katelyn Tomaszewski, “there’s no guarantee that you can make something of it.”

Many of us, including myself, cite farming as a hobby and not a career. Jess Hartges, another student volunteer, explains that getting her hands in the dirt clears her mind, has improved her mental health, and reminds her of the interconnected applications of farming to other areas of life. Kasey Bendele, a nursing student, says her interest in farming began when she understood the magnitude of relevance that food has to health. Us hobbyists probably haven’t gone far enough to look at price tags. After acknowledging the ways that farming grows us mentally and physically, as well as a plan to maintain an extensive garden at our future homes, why don’t we take it further? Mara Spears, who studies communications, said it well, “I feel too intimidated by it. I wouldn’t feel economically safe with the limited amount of knowledge I have to provide for a community.” Self included, lack of knowledge as a source of intimidation was dittoed by a few students.

Ellen Lavigne and Christopher Galbraith are not those students. They have, on the other hand, chosen farming as their after-graduation vocations. Ellen says this path became clear after working on a farm in Merrill, MI a couple of years ago. She learned about the variety of advantages of a plant-based diet to the earth, and wanted to continue to learn about “caring for plants and how plants care for people.” Chris grew up on a farm in Mio, MI, where they raised cattle, sheep, pigs, and crops such as barley, oats, and corn. He didn’t decide he wanted to be a farmer until he left for college and “realized what had been left behind.” Both describe a profound sense of fulfillment they get from this work. Ellen says it is something she “can put her heart into,” and Chris says, “there’s something very empowering and noble about producing something for other humans.”

They also agree that the root of the younger generation’s lack of farming interest stems from a deep disconnection from our food system, with financial instability and labor intensity as supporting factors. Can we recultivate that connection, and if so, how? Volunteering at a place like the SAP is an effective first step, Ellen thinks, and learning more about the state of our food system. Chris calls for a emphasization of values such as self-sufficiency, community contribution, and honoring nature.

Youssef Darwich, SAP manager, says he is overall optimistic about the future of farming due to all of the innovations that have been developed, but it will depend largely on policy. There is a lot of opportunity, he says, and taking advantage of that is essential to a more resilient and stable environment.
In 2014, the USDA launched a grant program set to run through 2018 that dedicates $19 million per year to initiatives involving new farmers. The grants are used to train incoming producers through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), aimed at organizations who are starting farming programs rather than individual farmers; recipients include universities, apprenticeships, and other educational partnerships (3). This is effective not only in offering support for new farmers, but sounds like it could be equally effective in rebuilding a sense of community, an essential component in the conversation of sustainability. What could other government initiatives aimed at incoming producers look like? How can we give farmers the kind of support needed for it to become a more attractive career path?

 

  1. United States Department of Agriculture, “2012 Census of Agriculture.” May 2014.
  2. United States Department of Agriculture, “Land Values 2015 Summary.” August 2015.
  3. Sam Brasch, “USDA Announces $19 Million in Grants for New Farmers,” Modern Farmer. April 2014.

Student Voice: “Let’s challenge ourselves to change OUR world”

Have you met the Office of Sustainability Practice’s wonderful Graduate Assistant, Samuel? Whether you have or haven’t, here’s a message to you, from Sam:

Hey y’all! Samuel Afoakwa

My name is Samuel Afoakwa, graduate assistant for the Office of Sustainability Practices. I am originally from Ghana so if you need the best Jollof rice look no further.  I had my bachelors from the University of Ghana in Sociology and Information Studies. My passion for helping others and making a difference has been evident in my involvement in volunteerism for the past years. In my senior year as a college student, I coordinated a team of just 3 (shout out to Sophie and Emmanuelle!) to address the problem of plastic waste in my college. The aim was not only to enlighten the university community on the benefits of recycling waste but was actively involved in collection and removal of plastic waste from the university campus through partnership with the local government and some plastic recycling firms. After facing several struggles and pushbacks, we were able to secure 40 recycling bins and I’m proud our efforts did not go unnoticed.

After a year in banking, I wanted to pursue something that is not only beneficial to me but also to my community. For this reason, I am currently pursuing my master’s in Public administration with the aim of influencing sustainable public policy in Ghana and the world over. My long term goal is to work full time in non-profit that addresses various sustainability problems in 3rd world countries. I hope to build a strong global network and connections that will assist me in this challenging path.

In my new role as a graduate assistant for the Office of Sustainability Practices, I coordinate the zero waste football events and also serve as a campus resource for students and groups to develop relationships that promote insight and enhance collaboration.

Having had varied cultural experiences, I have learned to interact and relate to diverse groups of people. You will catch me taking long walks to admire nature, listening to music, or surfing the net to find the best spicy food joint around. And Oh, I love soccer (the real football!).

If you have a few minutes, ask me about Ghana!

Come on board, let’s challenge ourselves to change OUR world!

Student Voice: The Basics of Buying Local Food

SAP Potluck-2
Photo by Chelsea Kattleman, taken at the SAP’s 2017 Fall Harvest Party.

Hi! I’m Danielle Warren – Writing major and Environmental Studies minor.  I’m also the social media intern for the SAP.

When considering the pitfalls of food distribution, I am reminded of a conversation I had with a middle schooler at the summer school program I worked at where we grew lettuce, kale, radishes, basil, and other produce in the school’s courtyard.

“This came from the garden…?”

“Yeah! Where do you think food you buy at the store comes from?”

“…the store!”

When I was in middle school, I may just as well have said the same words. We are not taught about food production or sourcing, not cohesively. We are taught that farmers grow food. We are taught that we buy food at the grocery store. As far as what happens in between, where else we can buy produce, and how these processes impact the world around us, we are clueless. Here lie just a few, scratch-the-surface things to know about buying locally-sourced food, for middle schoolers, adults, and everyone in between and beyond.

We can meet the person and/or people growing our food. With industrialized farms, on the other hand, the owners are often shareholders of corporations and not actually involved in food production. Additionally, what they are aiming to sustain is profits, not the farm, community, or natural resources. Produce varieties are not chosen for their flavor or nutritional value, but rather for their ability to withstand harvesting equipment and a week or two of traveling. Produce is grown in monocultures, fields that grow just one type of crop. Monocultures do bring a high yield efficiently, but are known for quicker soil depletion, fertilizer dependence, and plants more susceptible to disease than in a polyculture, meaning fields with more than one crop (1).

Another pro to buying locally-sourced produce is that we are reducing the fuel used by the transportation that got the food to where we are. Iowa State University found in 1998 that food from a supermarket in the United States traveled an average of 1,518 miles from farm to plate (2). There has been little accurate data since then, as food distribution systems have become “less centralized and more complicated,” and I imagine that does not mean that the miles have been diminished.

Quite obviously, by giving business to farmers in our communities, we are supporting the economy in which we live versus an economy across the country or farther.

I cannot talk about buying local without also talking, on some level, about the challenges it presents. If I’ve learned one thing in my environmental sciences courses, it’s that no issue is monodimensional.

A common belief, previously held by myself included, is that buying from farmers’ markets is more costly. Of course, prices vary by location, but one study conducted by Iowa State University and the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture found statistically insignificant price differences between local produce purchases and supermarket purchases, with local ones actually erring on the less expensive side (3).

Another challenge is transportation. In many disadvantaged communities, the majority of the population does not own a vehicle. Additionally, if in a non-urban area, the public transportation system is not likely comprehensive, either. Even if it is, it adds another few dollars to the trip. In a food desert, there is no Meijer or Walmart to go to as an alternative, where there may be select locally-sourced items. Perhaps there is a local gas station or liquor store to buy snack-type food at, though.

Another roadblock in the way of our societal journey to local eating is convenience. Many grocery stores are open 24 hours, seven days a week. Farmers’ Markets, on the other hand, are less available. Purchasing produce there requires some level of planning and intention that we are unaccustomed to. I know I don’t plan my meals or rationing of food based on when I can go to the Market next. But would doing so really be a disruption to my daily life? Is this not just a byproduct of a society based on thoughtless routines and a lack of self-sufficiency?

The farm manager at the Sustainable Agriculture Project, Youssef Darwich, tells me that the first step towards keeping your food dollars in your city or surrounding cities is learning how to cook and doing it more often. If we don’t know how to use much of the produce seen at a market, then why would we buy it? The more we learn to cook with produce, the more likely we are to want the best-tasting stuff and be intentional with our choices.

Find produce from the SAP at The Connection at varying seasonal times, the mobile market on Thursday afternoons on campus (send time/place requests to sapmanager@gvsu.edu), and volunteers go home with produce.

1. Margaret Robertson, Sustainability: Principles and Practice (New York: Routledge, 2017), 225-226.
2. To learn more about this study: http://lib.dr.iastate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1002&context=leopold_pubspapers
3. To learn more about this study: http://www.agmrc.org/media/cms/Is_Local_Food_More_Expensive_0DEEF5B9A5323.pdf

 

Hi! I’m Danielle Warren – Writing major and Environmental Studies minor. I’m also the social media intern for the SAP.

Student Voice: Statement of Intention


flowersHi! I’m Danielle Warren – Writing major and Environmental Studies minor.  I’m also the social media intern for the SAP.

My posts, first and foremost, are intended as a simultaneous learning experience for me, the writer, and you, the reader. The topics I write about are topics that I want to learn more on. Thus, my posts do not hold the pretension that they are a comprehensive end-point with all of the answers. Contrarily, they will probably pose as many questions as they will provide answers, if not more. What accompanies learning, to me, is an awareness of how much is left to be learned—the more knowledge I gather, the more questions I have.

I am most intrigued by the interconnectedness of social, political, and environmental concerns and their many complexities. My posts will not have the long-winded quality necessary to address all complexities; however, they will never view an issue monodimensionally. They will always strive to go deeper than the surface of “good” vs. “bad.” Generally speaking, a few topics of interest include:

  • Eating for the environment
  • The future of farming
  • Cultivating environmental empathy in young children, i.e. environmental education
  • Reshaping our land ethic
  • Being agents of change without feeling constantly overwhelmed and defeated
  • The longstanding battle between economy and environment
  • Types of capital other than monetary
  • Environmental justice

My hope is that my posts spark discussion amongst, provoke critical thinking in, and prompt further research both by readers and myself. In light of that, I am always open to commentary and critique.

From the office: Welcome, from the Office of Sustainability

Office of Sustainability Practices

Hello and welcome to the Office of Sustainability Practices Blog!

The purpose of our office is to provide the necessary skills, analytical tools, and resources to address global, national, regional, and local sustainability issues.

We love that our job is to help others live a more sustainable lifestyle.  We look forward to sharing student projects, research, and best practices with you.

Want to contribute?  We’d be delighted.  Contact us at sustainability@gvsu.edu.