As a liberal arts campus located in the middle of farm country, I’ve always found it shocking that F&M doesn’t have a prominent community gardening space. We are an environmentally progressive campus with green roofs, biodegradable and compostable dining utensils, and vegan options at all dining places on campus. F&M is part of the Food Recovery Challenge where excess food is donated, the rest getting composted off campus. We have the Fair Trade Cafe on campus, Common Hour talks linked to learning about sustainability, and many classes teaching us about the links between food and our communities and environment. Our food service provider, Sodexo, is striving for more local food and increased sustainability, and even though the food provided is to feed our campus, we don’t know much about it. Although these efforts are noteworthy, they happen behind the scenes for most students on campus. For many of us, we consume food from on campus dining services without giving much thought to the lifecycle of our food before and after it reaches our plate. We have all the tools in front of us being located in such a rich agricultural area, we just need to create opportunities for the F&M community to get involved.
This past summer and fall I was part of a team that helped kickstart a local gardening initiative in my small town in central New Hampshire. A few community members came together driven by the goal of increasing local produce, strengthening community connections, and teaching people how and why to garden. We found a local farmer to teach workshops on how to plant garlic, a local chef to make a tutorial for cooking meals with your garden’s harvest, and neighborhood teams who came together in the spirit of gardening, wanting to know more. We were encouraging everyone from all backgrounds and gardening expertise to come together to share and learn. Over the course of a few months we saw the vision for our program begin to unfold. An unexpected discovery was that many people understood gardening as something unattainable for themselves, a theory rooted in ignorance and fear. They didn’t know where to start, they didn’t know which plants to plant or when or how, they killed their succulent a few years ago and never bought another plant again. Our goal of inspiring people to garden turned into a goal of breaking down what it meant to garden. It doesn’t mean you have to have a farm or want a farm, it doesn’t mean you have to be “crunchy” or “granola”, or have a ton of free time on your hands. It was about being outside with other people, feeling the pride and fulfillment of growing your own food that you’d get to share with your community, and witnessing before your eyes, food in full circle. It’s understandable why so many people would feel that fear though, because it’s hard to start and continually practice sustainable gardening alone. And that’s where we found the reason for why people weren’t gardening, it starts with having a support system, a community.
In order to further our sense of community at F&M, we need to get more involved in what we eat. Food is deeply linked to culture, environmental impacts, and our sense of social responsibility. For all the sustainable initiatives we have going on at F&M, it is time for us all to get more hands on experience with community gardening for everyone. You don’t have to have a major within the Earth and Environment Department, wear Birkenstocks and Patagonia, or carry canvas tote bags wherever you go. You just have to be curious and confident that we’re all going to learn something significant by coming together and practicing together what it means to live sustainably.