Semester with True Greens

The entire concept of the project from the start of its introduction in class immediately caught my interest. The idea of growing fresh food on campus in order to offer not necessarily a solution but an alternative to the current system we rely on is exactly the step forward we need at UMBC in our efforts to become a more sustainable and “green” university. True Greens serves as a perfect opportunity to further expand my prior experience and passion for growing. I had just spent the entire semester abroad working in Berlin and growing microgreens at an urban farm (which I loved!), and I wanted to work on a project where I was continuously involved with getting my hands dirty and planting. In specific, I love that True Greens’ focus is on growing microgreens because they are very easy to care for and thus reliable for harvesting. Besides the growing aspect, I also enjoyed exploring the entrepreneurial side of the True Greens project. Within our project, we also had to explore marketing skills by determining how we could encourage others to become excited about purchasing microgreens. Most of this was experienced through trial and error.
Moreover, I liked that this project was so tangible and you could really see the end results. Fresh microgreens that were sold to both Chartwells and off campus to Rumor Mill a local restaurant. Though we started off with outsourcing only a few pounds, I feel this was a positive and realistic way to start our project and if successful it will only continue to grow as long as it is kept sustainable.
As far as working with my team members, I think we had a great combination of individuals with different backgrounds to offer. Everyone was equally involved with their project duties and held their own weight. Lydia created awesome illustrations for our logo and taste testing, Tom and I have experience in growing, Erik used his interest in holistic nutrition to provide research on microgreens nutritional value, and finally Andres pulled all of our skills together to guide us through the project. I was happy to see that we were all entirely hands on with the project. We all planted and harvested together, and if someone could not make it or an extra handed was needed there was always someone available to complete a task.We came together when needed and everyone performed their individual piece in order to make a greater whole.
I was also really happy with the quality of communication in this project. Andres did a great job with this by introducing the Slack network which allowed all team members to be aware of updates and work, thus keeping everyone in contact outside of class. I feel that communication is important because it can be easily lost as we only meet twice a week, and time is definitely needed to be dedicated outside of class as well to look after the plants.
I cannot say there were any major obstacles during the duration of our project. Planting and harvesting went well, besides maybe a couple instances where microgreens did not grow properly. Although, this may be a normal occurance for most initial harvests. If there was one thing I would mention, it was tricky at times to persuade other students on campus to taste microgreens and be open to this holistic approach. Not everyone may understand the importance of this project, so at times it may be difficult to convince others to want to join this movement and experience for themselves what it means to eat local (literally right on campus), and understand ultimately why they should believe this is important. I experienced this when we did our taste testing. There were definitely mixed results. Half of the students were very curious and open to what we were doing and eager to taste, whereas others did not want to try the microgreens at all. This reaction can be deemed as normal when introducing something that may be perceived as “foreign”. It is an obstacle to change the minds of the masses, and definitely something to consider as we try to change the way we view food.

My advice for future students is to become familiar with growing microgreens in advance. If you have not already grown prior, make sure at the very least that you read up on how to plant and harvest microgreens. Even better, have someone actually show you the process or watch tutorials online to get some practice. Andres will be creating an instructional video on how to grow microgreens, so this should definitely be taken advantage of to learn the growing process. Microgreens are not difficult to grow, but without prior experience you do not want to risk the plants repeatedly getting sick and dying . This is especially important when you have customers who are expecting produce. Besides learning about how to actually grow, it would be beneficial to spend some time reading about microgreens themselves. What are they? Why are they beneficial? How can we add them to our meals? Questions like these are beneficial to consider as you plan to also act as entrepeneurs and sell the microgreens. Having that said, be prepared to work outside of the greenhouse too as you will explore business skills in order to outsource microgreens to Wild Greens inside of the commons area at UMBC and even local restaurants such as Rumor Mill located in Ellicott City, Maryland. Moreover, figure out what your responsibilites are for the project within the group and focus on that role specifically. Communication skills are vital for this project. Everyone needs to keep track of who is watering, planting, harvesting, and so on. It is beneficial to have some sort of online platform for communication in which all team members can observe conversation and be updated on progress and meet ups. For this previous semester we used Slack, which proved to be extremely helpful in staying organized and working together as a team.

I would not say my concept of “Food Justice” has necessarily been altered, but instead expanded on. Prior to the class I had attained a good amount of information on what we mean by food justice. Through courses and past work experience, I have exposed myself to learning about many of the issues we face when looking at the way we grow, consume, and waste food on a daily basis. But of course there is always more to learn. In relation to this class, I think what I learned the most was how to actually set one’s ideas and plans into action. We spend a lot of time discussing and even debating how to interpret and evaluate the traditional model for the food system. However, there can only be so much time spending on constant discussion and instead we must begin to act. With that said, this class taught me how to actually work on a project that aims to alter the food system through the work of True Greens. How was I able to learn? Simply by implementing an idea into action. Everytime I planted or harvested, there was always something new to consider in growing microgreens– more efficient ways to seed or harvest, for example. Not only was I expanding my knowledge on how to care for plants, but I also had to learn how to work effectively with other team members. Within our team we were constantly communicating new ideas, meet-up times, and future projects. This could not be done without proper communication, which I believe is at the heart of this project. True Greens is not a single-mans job, it takes efforts from all individual team members to put this entire semester’s worth of work into action.

Altogether, I have nothing but positive things to say and I am honestly really happy with the way things carried on through the semester while working with True Greens. There was so much that I learned from class discussions, work completed in the greenhouse, and even new insights from fellow students in the True Greens project and even other outside projects as well. I definitely hope to see this project continue on, as I believe it has a lot of potential in the future provided with such a strong foundation. I look forward to updates on True Greens and hope this project will remain sustainable with semesters to come at UMBC.

-Erika Bishoff 🙂

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