Student Voice: My Encounter with the Sustainable Agricultural Project

By: Ellen Audia

Greetings everyone!

My first encounter with the Sustainable Agriculture Project was in 2014 when I first started at Grand Valley. As a freshman I took a class through the Honors College called Food for Thought with Dr. Amy McFarland in which we were regularly working with the SAP and the Farm Club. After attending Farm Club events, potlucks, and spending Fridays volunteering, I started to form friendships with the people. Those friendships continued to grow as did my connection with the SAP. Over the last four years, I have been consistently finding peace, educational opportunities, friendships, and amazing food there.

The ability to escape the stresses of college, technology, and constant stimulation by digging my hands in the dirt, connecting to the earth, and sharing hard work and the benefits of it with other people has truly made my college experience so wonderful.

ellen1-e1538673769718.jpgAfter moving into the Wesley house last summer, and fully immersing myself into the SAP my gratitude for the people who have put their energy into it grew exponentially. Because without the SAP I wouldn’t be who I am today. I have fallen in love there, I have cried there, laughed until my belly hurt there, and grown, harvested and eaten the most delicious, beautiful food there.

Furthermore, the SAP provides amazing educational and research opportunities for students at Grand Valley. Whether that be through classes that are held there, or research projects that are based there, it has been an avenue for exploration and learning. But it is much more than that to me. The SAP is my home, and as I start to move forward in my life, saying goodbye will be very hard. I am pleased to be part of the SAP and I know it will inspire even more people and thus continue to provide peace, friendships, and food to newcomers in the same way it has for me.

Thank you.

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Student Voice: How a Pre-dental Student found Environmental Studies

By: Alyssa Schutzenhofer

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Freshman year I thought college was just like any other school experience; all I had to do was take the classes that would get me to the point of applying to dental school. I never anticipated falling in love with a field, which seemed to have nothing to do with dentistry.

It all started with my Honors freshman sequence, Food For Thought. I signed up for the class because it seemed like fun! Who wouldn’t want to talk about food for an entire school year? I quickly found out it was much more than just talking about food. I learned the different ways food is grown and processed and how these details have massive impacts on our planet. Not only did I learn all the ways that we impact our planet, I learned how the planet also impacts us.

I learned the benefits, physically and mentally, of being outdoors, as well as the health benefits of eating certain food groups and avoiding others. We learned all of this through a variety of teaching techniques, ranging from readings to classroom discussions to watching documentaries.

My favorite part was getting to apply our learning out at the Sustainable Agriculture Project (SAP). At the SAP there is no passive learning. Unlike other classes where you might be able take notes all class without actually knowing what you are taking notes on, at the SAP you learn something and apply it right away. You can develop your interpersonal and problem-solving skills by working with the interns, farm manager Youssef and classmates on projects there.

It is safe to say that after Food For Thought my eyes were opened to an entirely different way of viewing the world, and there was no turning back. I found a passion for the environment and for sustainable food production that drove me to pick up a minor in Environmental Studies and also work towards a Certificate in Sustainable Food Systems.

Now, three years after Food For Thought, I have had countless classes out at the Sustainable Agriculture Project and it has not only helped me grow as a student but has also taught me a few things about myself. Beyond discovering my passion for taking care of our planet and knowing where our food comes from, I also learned the importance of disconnecting.

As a biomedical sciences student, my mind is always on the move and it is easy to get stressed out with to do lists running through my head all day long. However, when I went out to the farm it forced me to set aside my phone, computer and to do lists and just let go. Whether I was digging up the soil to prepare a garden, or out weeding, or harvesting, being out at the farm was meditative to me. It taught me that no matter how busy life may become it’s important to take time for you and connect with nature a little bit.

You may be wondering how this ever connected back to dentistry. Well, it turns out that the food we eat can greatly impact our health, I know, shocking. I hope, as a dentist or orthodontist someday, that I will be able to share my experience with my patients and spread the importance of knowing where our food comes from. So, come graduation I will not only be graduating with a degree in Biomedical Sciences, and a minor in Environmental Studies, but also with a completely different view of the world and I think that is exactly what college is all about.

Credit: GVSU HONORS COLLEGE

Student Voice: Tending Your Inner Soils

BlogJaredSoilThe SAP has influenced my outlook in ways that are simultaneously simple and complex. By just spending time here, listening to the enthusiastic people involved with the farm and witnessing firsthand the art of agriculture, anyone has the potential to see a depth and significance reflected in all aspects of life. The outlooks I’ve noticed are simple because the observable life-lessons are universal and thus accessible to everyone regardless of background. But at the same time, that universality invites an almost overwhelming complexity because of its relevance in every facet of life. I’m speaking vaguely here, so perhaps specific examples can better articulate my points.

BlogThinningThinning is important. In fact, it’s necessary for the growth of healthy produce. Simply, thinning is the process of removing the smaller fledgling crops that crowd out and take resources from their more vigorous neighbors. While it may “feel bad” to snuff out the life of a radish or beet that has only started to taste fresh air, it may, for the overall health of the harvest, be necessary to reduce their numbers. Practically, for you and me as individuals, it may also be necessary to thin out aspects of our own lives hampering our growth and preventing us from being as successful as we could be. I’ve learned to try to be more thoughtful about how I spend my time; there is value in thinning out unproductive hours, hobbies, memories, and grudges that prevent us from being as successful or affable as we ought to be. Nurture your strengths. Let your beets be as hearty as they can be.

In that same vein, fire can be good. There is a flame weeder at the farm that scorches the earth were young weeds are growing and prevents them from being as vigorous as they could be. I did not know such things seriously existed before I began interning here. I imagined a flame weeder would have been too great of a risk to the lives of desirable plants. But you can be tactful with such a tool, and there are indeed times when scorching the soil is justified.

Occasionally the conversations that took place as we worked turned to subjects like the ecological importance of wildfires. Certainly, large out-of-control fires are damaging and undesirable, but small controlled burns can clear an area out for new growth. Too much undergrowth can make an area ecologically stagnant, and when a wildfire does take place, the fire can be too severe if the flammable materials were building up for too long. On a personal level, similar disturbances in life can actually benefit individuals by making them strong and tolerant to larger scale tragedies. Large scale disasters tear through vast amounts of emotional resources, but by learning about yourself and strengthening your responses to small scale misfortunes, greater challenges can seem less daunting. Because you went through the process of thinning yourself and disturbing your inner soils, you can emerge confident and hardy.

InnerHoopHouseBeware of excess fertility. This is a more nuanced point because fertility certainly benefits growth. However, if there are too many good resources concentrated in one area, then it may ultimately harm the quality of the end harvest if a farmer is not prepared. Applying too much water to a bed can actually suffocate or stunt a plant because the roots have no incentive to travel deep into the soil. Too much water can make the roots grow shallow, and thus the tomatoes or carrots never tap into the natural reservoirs below the surface. High nutrient soil and plentiful water also attract weeds. While desirable plants can grow wonderfully thanks to good quality compost, that same bountiful environment will also fuel the growth of weeds. Too many weeds will choke and out-compete the crops. Be aware of the costs and benefits that come with such fertility.

It is not difficult to connect these agricultural aspects into other areas of life. The observations about water and growth incentives reveal lessons on self-reliance and the necessity of sustainable forays into maturity. While a life of gifted resources is secure and comforting, it won’t necessarily cultivate competence. Consider, for instance, the responsibilities parents have when nurturing their children toward lives of confidence and self-reliance; too much stifling care throughout the growing process will lead to weak and shallow-rooted children. Maturing into adulthood from adolescence requires risky decisions and self-learned wisdom. Again, a little disruption, fire, or thirst can be good. Likewise, great success is not without its own obstacles that scale with the reward. Larger business endeavors will produce more weed-like challenges seeking to disrupt or take advantage of the ultimate reward. But, as the old wisdom goes, greater risk means greater reward. It’s not so difficult to deal with weeds if a levelheaded farmer can anticipate and identify them.

Appearances can be deceiving; vitality surrounds us. The north fields at the farm have less access to irrigated water, and the soil looks absolutely arid at times. The earth can be cracked and even the relentless grasses seem reluctant to claim the land. But with one turn of the shovel, it is quite clear the earth beneath is darker because it is retaining moisture. While the surface is dry, there is still something below that thirsty roots can reach for. Furthermore, plants are far more resilient than I was led to believe. If you take a young lettuce or pepper plant and transplant it to a new location, the leaves will lose some vigor and the poor plant may begin to droop. But if you give the plants some time, and water, and a cool morning, there is a good chance the plant will take hold in its new home. Plants are resilient, and environments are more supportive than they may appear. We once talked about centuries-old seeds that archaeologist discovered. They were ancient, yet the seeds still sprouted after being pulled from their shadowy tombs and granted sight of the sun once more. My point is, we too, like these resilient plants, can endure far more disturbances and fires in life than we may think.

We should be aware of our own personal environments too. Are we really in the arid ruts we believe we’re stuck in, or is there more life and motivation surrounding us we’re simply not seeing? Or can we perhaps do with some disturbances in our old routines? Maybe we’ll wilt a little, but will changing our environment inevitably do more good than harm? Perhaps. Everyone is different. But after working at the farm over the summer, I’m beginning to see some patterns reflecting the accessible complexity of all facets of life. I assure you you have the eyes to see them as well. We can all afford to spend more time with our hands, our natural instruments of labor, deep at work within soils of all types.

—Jared

Student Voice: 3 Herbs and their Benefits

Hey everyone!

Today I want to talk to you about the health benefits of herbs. Specifically some of them that we grow at the farm.

Below are 3 different herbs that are commonly used for tea but can be used in recipes as well. I have picked these 3 for, not only their health benefits, but also they are grown at the farm and are popular among tea drinkers. While I cover many of the health benefits, I do not cover them all, I only cover the ones that are most important to majority of people.

I have also done some research about these herbs, and from what I discovered, both dried and fresh herbs have the same health benefits when used in recipes and teas. Whether you want to wait until your herbs dry or use them fresh, you are still reaping the full benefits. 

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Allergies: Mint plants contain an acid called rosmarinic which has been researched and found to help bring relief to seasonal allergy symptoms. 

Skin: When used as a topical treatment in the form of oil, ointment or lotion, mint has the effect of calming and cooling skin affected by insect bites, rash or other reactions.

Oral Health: Mint is a natural antimicrobial agent, which means it kills microorganisms or stops their growth. Mint also acts as a breath freshener. 

Common Cold: Mint contains menthol, which is a natural aromatic decongestant that helps to break up phlegm and mucus, making it easier to expel. Menthol also has a cooling effect and can help relieve a sore throat.

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Common Cold: Yarrow dilates pores and blood vessels which causes the body to sweat, leading to the removal of toxins.

Skin Treatments: Yarrow essential oils are often found in skincare products and ointments. The essential oils can help clear out eczema and calm skin inflammation. The oils can help heal acne scars when added carrier oils. Drinking yarrow tea is also an excellent way to cleanse the body to enhance cell regeneration in the skin.

Blood Pressure Management: It has vasodilatory and anti-inflammatory properties that facilities adequate flow of blood throughout the body. It also calms and relaxes the nerves to lower blood pressure.

Wound Healing: Yarrow contains the chemical compound achilliene, which is responsible for its healing traits. This aids in the coagulation of blood, which leads to the rapid closing of the wound. The chemical compound also protects the wound from infections and helps numbs the pain. 

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Headaches/Migraines: Thymol, which is known for its antiseptic properties is found in Catnip which can be an effective cure for migraines and headaches. 

Hair: The antiseptic properties from Thymol make Catnip a good remedy for dandruff. The herb can also be used as a conditioning agent by soaking your hair into the Catnip tea infusion. 

Common Cold: Similar to Yarrow, Catnip helps the body sweat out the toxins. Some specilaislist will even recommend drinking Catnip tea until cured.

Now these are just some of the benefits of the 3 herbs I looked into. There are many more I just selected a few that I found to be the most interesting. However, it is important to remember that just because the benefits have been reported, not all may apply to you. Everyone can have different reactions to holistic methods. It is also important to remember that all the benefits will most likely not happen right away, it may take a couple weeks for some to kick in, so don’t give up.

Disclaimer: If you have a health condition or are on medication, be sure to consult your doctor about using herbs.

—Emily

 

Faces of the Farm: Krista

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The more we have the environment play a role in society and the more we have agriculture have a place, the more well-rounded we are as human beings.”

Meet Krista!

Krista was the lead intern at the SAP during the 2017-18 growing season, and she has a passion for the way agriculture can be used to improve an individual’s well-being. Her relationship with the farm began when she started volunteering alongside the other enthusiastic individuals working at the SAP. Through Farm Club and other SAP related events, Krista’s connection to the farm and its community grew. Because of the encouragement from other SAP community members, Krista chose to pursue the lead internship position in 2017. This highlights the way tight-knit communities like those at the SAP can see the strengths in others and help them toward specific aspirations.

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Krista’s most profound contribution to the SAP was the organization of the herbal garden seen in front of the farmhouse. The SAP began ten years ago as a small student-run garden, and the herbal garden retains and reflects that same simple and holistic spirit. Krista’s own interest in herbs stems from their usefulness in maintaining one’s health. Herbs and natural food can play a significant role in helping an individual maintain a positive physiological, mental, and emotional well-being.

Some of the greatest connections Krista drew between the SAP and life in general involve the relationships between individuals, the environment, and society. Individuals are happiest when they’re consciously taking care of themselves with healthy food. Invigorated, individuals can then work to improve the environments they live in through sustainable agricultural practices. Well-tended environments can improve all areas of our well-being, and Krista notes the rejuvenating sense of clear-headedness one feels when walking into the first day of spring. Additionally, healthy environments can foster meaning-driven societies. For instance, smaller farms like the SAP can nurture close relationships between the source of the food and the consumers. This can be more difficult on large industrial farms where the distances between food and customer are greater. At the SAP, individuals enjoying the produce can have opportunities to volunteer and interact with the dedicated workers bringing them their food. There is more unity on a societal level, and this is possible thanks to healthy environments and the individuals that tend the land. Sustainability, then, is us training the environment to take care of itself so it can benefit society.

KristaFaces2Finally, Krista marvels at the way nature and the outdoors can be used to unite students of different backgrounds. People invested in the worlds of math, engineering, art, and so on can all come to the SAP for a break into nature. The farm community is open and provides common ground for all disciplines to get out of their hectic worlds for a while and get their hands dirty. Doing so is therapeutic. It is not only healthy for the environment and society, but for the individual.

Faces of the Farm: David

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“We’re literally creating food…this is a source right here. We’re growing it straight out of the ground. We’re taking soil, water, and air and creating food, and that’s amazing.”

Meet David!

David is currently one of the interns living at the Wesley House at the SAP. He had known of the farm for a while, but living directly within this agricultural environment has given him a new appreciation for the care and community needed to produce quality food. It was through the backpacking club and other socializing groups here at GVSU that David first learned about the SAP, and from there he eagerly took part in the regular potlucks held at the farm. Everyone is welcomed to these potlucks, so David was able to interact with many different people with different relationships toward food and the farm. His introduction to the farm highlights the close-knit and personable character of the SAP community while still demonstrating its welcoming atmosphere to newcomers.

FacesDavid4David enjoys both the remoteness of the SAP compared to the rest of the GVSU campus and the environments people have created here. The farm still certainly displays the GVSU spirit, but it’s nestled between acres of humbling farmland, and there are, as David will often point out, many excellent climbing trees in the area. The environment of the SAP is therefore one that emphasizes the land where plants and nature are the focus while also encouraging the social environments that make up this small community. Because David is living on the property, he continues to have opportunities to interact with and encourage the different faces and personalities that contribute to the farm. Farms and communities are more successful when they’re managed by people with shared goals, and that’s precisely where the SAP finds its strength. It’s an interdisciplinary haven, but also one that encourages a culture of interpersonal growth.

One of David’s goals in life is to simply make people happy, and he knows quite well that this can be done with food. There will always be relationships between communities and the land they live on, and food is the manifestation of that bond. If people are living happy and healthy lives, then the food they create and consume will reflect that healthy relationship. Furthermore, living directly on the farm has given David a new appreciation for the structure and dedication necessary to maintain effective farms. Ultimately, a farm environment offers more opportunities of socialization, and his love of food is entwined with growing it. David’s interests embody both the cultivation of crops and community, and David has, through building a bond with the SAP, witnessed the source of those materials.

Student Voice: A Community Within

20180523_104736.jpgHey everybody! My name is Emily, and I am a social media intern at the SAP this summer. After spending a couple weeks with the SAP, I have learned so much about it and about farming practices in general. Everything at the SAP is organized and planned out very well, however, we are constantly trying to better the farm with ideas from anyone and everyone. It is amazing to be a part of such a great community who all has a similar goal.

All of the interns this summer, even though most of us did not know each other prior to the start of the summer, have such a great time together. There is so much laughter at the farm that you can’t help but feel at home there. 

In just the couple weeks of being apart of the SAP, I have learned so much already. I truly never realized how much went into farming. It really puts into perspective mass production of produce and really food in general. It’s amazing to see how passionate people are about the SAP and farming, and I am well on my way to being one of those people.

Something that I am really excited to work on while at the SAP is bringing awareness to the community not just about the SAP but also about the community within the SAP. Everyone I work with brings something special to the SAP and has their own personal goal with what they want to accomplish this summer to better the SAP. Most people don’t even know about the SAP which has led to many misconceptions it, and I’ll admit that I believed them until I started interning there. I want to use Social Media to try to break down the misconceptions and bring forth the community that is the Sustainable Agriculture Project. I didn’t know what type of people I would meet during my time at the SAP, but in just the short time I’ve been involved I have met so many amazing people and learned so much that I’m very happy that I chose to get involved.

There are so many opportunities at the SAP for anyone. Whether you are an intern, a volunteer, on farm crew, or just want to learn more about farming and the SAP, there is a place for you.