For me school has always been a great struggle and not to over exaggerate, but really it has been the bane of my existence. I have vivid memories as a child staring out the window in class somewhere deep in my mind imagining the things I could be doing in the woods or all the critters I could be catching in the creek. I was consistently reprimanded for my lack of concentration in the class room, leaving deep scars that still have yet to heal. As a child, teenager, and young adult I was always convinced that the world and the people in it had far more to teach me than any textbook. The classroom had always felt like a cage to me or to be more explicit a jail cell. So when I was 20 years old and completely lost I decided to give something else a try, and I dropped out of college to move to California, where I lived and worked at a Outdoor environmental science school. The school was located in the San Bernadino National forest, a sanctuary for the city dwellers, (or flat landers as we called them) only being a 60 mile drive east from Los Angeles. In those mountains we received children from all over southern California, kids that came from wealthy upbringings in Laguna beach, to kids that had never been in the mountains living deep in the desert far from any tree. These children would lose their minds just at the sight of a squirrel! To be with a child while they experienced their first fall of snowflakes and the utter silence and peace that it brings with it, is an experience that I am unable to capture in words. I relived my childhood through the eyes of these children. They awoke something inside of me that I had lost long ago. The most important thing I took away from working with these kids was how trans-formative it was for these children to get out of the classroom and have an applied learning experience. We would sit in a meeting every Monday morning with the teachers of the kids that we would be working with that week. Without fail there was always at least two children in my group that had some type of learning disability, whether it be ADD, ADHD, or autism it came to be expected. Being a child that was diagnosed with a learning disability at a young age, only to secretly refuse to take the medication that would have robbed me of my individuality, I remembered to always remain skeptical of teachers when speaking about their classroom students. Week after week to the classroom teachers astonishment, the children that they had condemned to never being able to be productive students, would out perform their peers. These children thrived in this type of learning environment. Watching these kids, who were so much like myself as a child, learn and be excited about subjects they had already deemed boring, opened my eyes to the potential of applied learning.
It was this experience that has led me to where I am today. It was this experience that brought me back to Maryland and to UMBC. I share this story to try and encapsulate my feelings and passion for applied learning.
My experience in Creating Food System Justice has been nothing but positive and any issues that arose were treated as a learning experience. My favorite part about the class was being able to apply some of the knowledge and skills that I have gained over the years both in and out of school. My group and I were able to design and implement a food forest on campus that will leave a legacy for years to come. I couldn’t be more happy with the project and my peers.
While implementing the food forest my group experienced few minor setbacks. The first being with weather and trying to get a delivery of compost to school without causing damage to the land. That obstacle was overcome with patience and the good grace of mother nature. The other obstacle we faced was going through bureaucracy to try and obtain money for plants for the food forest. Luckily with funding allocated for the class we were able to purchase some of the plants that were needed. We are still in need of some other plants but will resolve that issue in the fall. An opportunity that arose was the chance to work with the Baltimore Orchard project. Ben, who works with the Baltimore Orchard project, was able to consult with us on the food forest and gave advice on where and how to plant certain plants.
My advice for any students that participate in Creating Food System Justice or any applied learning experience is to keep and open mind. Don’t expect the structure that is associated with the typical college class. It is important to bring your passion into the class and to realize early on that most of the work you will be doing is out of the class room. It is mostly up to you to make the class a valuable experience. You can make it as grand or as mundane as you like.
I would have to say my concept of food justice has only changed slightly. My eyes have opened to the wide spread pandemic problem of food deserts in cities. It has encouraged me to think deeply about how I can incorporate my experience with growing food in rural settings and apply it in urban areas.
Overall my experience with the class Creating Food System Justice has been unforgettable. I have made connections with great human beings who are passionate about bringing change to our corrupt food system. I hope to continue to engage with my fellow students and teachers to bring about a more just food system for all. Many thanks to all who were involved in the class and especially professor Jill Wrigley!