As this semester closes up, I am proud to say that I was a part of a team that left a lasting impression on the UMBC campus. I’ve always been interested in civic engagement, but food sustainability is something I had never actively worked to help solve. That changed in the past few months. I remember seeing the flier for this class, INDS 430, and what attracted me was that I would have the chance to work with plants on campus, and for credit! Not in a strictly biological way, but more as a human rediscovering the faded art of drawing food from the Earth. I have always had access to fresh fruits & vegetables, and fondly remember growing mint, thyme, and tomatoes behind my house years ago. Before this course, I hadn’t really given a lot of thought to food access. Connecting the good health and warm feelings that wholesome, healthy food give me with the fact that some people rarely have the chance to enjoy, or even know that they’re missing something so complimentary to their existence, well, it’s sad. But here’s what this class did that different than other sociology classes I’ve taken. We examined the problem, and then we immediately sought out solutions. How can we make gardening available to refugees who need it to feel at home? How can we promote a company that seeks to cut back on wasted food, and make it affordable? How can we support efforts to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to food desert areas in Baltimore city via food markets? How can we share the wonder of sustainable permaculture agriculture to everyday students, faculty, and visitors at UMBC? These are questions that we actively worked to solve. In the end, I was partially responsible for the beginnings of the UMBC Food Forest, something I really enjoyed, and something that I believe will foster interest and enthusiasm. But here’s what I think was most important about INDS 430. I learned I could act. It doesn’t have to be a groundbreaking movement, it doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars, all it takes is some research and a heart that is compelled to be a part of something bigger. I firmly believe that this course could open many students eyes to the power that they have to make good social change for the world they live in. I leave inspired, and proud of what I accomplished, and will continue to work with the UMBC Food Forest for the duration of my time here at UMBC.
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 🙂
While I am living the dream in so many ways, and have been privileged to have something I have always done for play suddenly become my work (pretty much all of you know I’m a fire performer right? If you don’t, now you do), for a long time I have been looking for a deeper connection to the land and to my community, and to do work with a lasting positive impact. This is what drew me into this class originally; to find direction and purpose through collaborative efforts. Of course, I also wanted to get my hands dirty and start growing food as quickly as possible, the other factor for what drew me to True Greens.
True Greens has laid the groundwork for a thriving on campus farm, something very unique and – having lived on campus and on the unhealthy dining options there – especially vital. Being in the greenhouse every day took me to a place of mental quiet where I could ponder the impact of this project. Not only does True Greens pave the way for healthy, sustainable local food, but increased student involvement will lead to more awareness on sustainability, health, and community organizing.
The fact that there had been preparation for True Greens prior to the start of the semester helped make things go very smoothly; I felt that we didn’t come across many of the hurdles that other groups faced was immensely satisfying. We were immediately able to start growing, start selling microgreens to vendors on and off campus, and making plans towards expansion. The project didn’t see a single huge setback for the entirety of the semester, and as time went on we got better and better at what we did.
My advice to anyone starting work with True Greens would be to get well acquainted with both the growing and business sides of things as early on as possible. While True Greens does effectively address social issues, it’s important not to forget that it is also a business, and learning tactics related to marketing and entrepreneurship will help immensely.
My concept of food justice hasn’t changed too much from the beginning to the end of the semester; rather, I was amazed at all of the creative ways that people worked to combat food justice related issues at every facet of the food system. Access to sustainable, healthy, local food with minimal waste for all is not something that is going to be achieved quickly, and community organizing and creative problem solving is vital to achieving it. I hope to be involved in True Greens in some way, shape or form for the entirety of my time at UMBC, and I am excited to see what the future holds.
– Lydia Russell
The high school I went to had a strong Signature Program, Community Development and Global Citizenship, which I was an avid member of for all four years I attended Arundel High School. This program introduced me to the concept of applied learning and showed me a contemporary way to learn that excited me. I went to Towson University after high school and felt completely out of place. Even after transferring to UMBC, I still felt like there was something missing about my education. Although most people say they never want to relive high school, I found myself missing high school because it was a time I felt engaged in my education and most importantly, I enjoyed what I was learning. When I saw the flyer for the INDS 430 seminar about Astrobiology I got so excited! I immediately rushed to my computer to sign up for the class but then I learned that 430 had many sections with different topics. After spending some time trying to decide which seminar I would enjoy the most, I chose Creating Food System Justice and I am so pleased with my decision.
This past semester I was lucky enough to work on the New Roots Garden project on campus. I came into this class knowing some information about the International Rescue Committee (IRC) due to personal experiences with them. I knew that this was an amazing organization that helped many of my loved ones escape our war-torn country of Iraq. However, I didn’t know the IRC had started a new initiative to build gardens for refugees to feel empowered and comfortable in a foreign land. Our group’s goal was to get a community garden for the refugees that are a part of our very own UMBC community, living within walking distance from campus.
Although we were unable to break ground for the garden this semester, we have definitely learned a lot on the way. I am sure everyone in my group, and in the class, did not know much about the bureaucratic system at UMBC before we had to learn in order to get our projects moving. This is a challenging system with no clear routes that has made our group feel completely stuck and overwhelmed many times throughout the semester. While we still haven’t been granted permission to begin the garden, we have definitely made many allies along the way who posses great knowledge about the system and have been assisting us along the way. It has been very hard to not have much physical proof of our work this semester, however, I truly believe that if we continue to work hard we will be able to have a New Roots Garden on campus in the near future.
I am planning on stay with this project during my time at UMBC and hopefully gain help from students and faculty along the way. Although I am hoping most of the bureaucratic work will be done quickly, I understand that it is a long and draining process that might take some time. With that in mind, I hope students who will work on this project in the future remember that there is not always instant gratification when working in civic engagement, if you hold on and keep working hard, you will almost always see a change. And if there is no clear change, then know that you learned a lesson that can be used to better your objectives. I believe one of the most important concepts to remember when working in civic engagement, is to never give up when you are challenged with a problem.
My understanding of Food Justice has definitely evolved throughout the semester. I was only 3 years old when I moved to America so I have no memory of Iraq. However, my siblings, cousins, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles all vividly remember our home. My family had many acres of land where we grew fruits and vegetables. We had a surplus of fresh dates from the tree in our yard. I remember the way my grandfather’s face would light up when he talked about the apricots he grew. I knew the transition to life in America was very difficult for my family. I also knew that it was even harder for the older generations. I saw the hope of going back to Iraq slowly diminish from their eyes year after year.
I knew one of the things my family valued, due to a cultural predisposition, was food. No matter how hard we tried, some foods just never tasted the way they did in Iraq. I knew that hurt my family. I knew they missed the flavors of the lamb and the sweetness of the apricots and the freshness of the cucumbers. I also know that my family is not the first family to be displaced and miss the comfort of their homeland.
One of the main reasons I wanted to work with the New Roots Garden was to be able to help refugees feel more comfortable in their new land. I know the large value food represents in my life and I’m sure it holds an equal value in the lives of many refugees. Besides wanting to provide a place for healing in the garden, I want to provide these refugees with a place to grow the foods they miss from their homeland. During my research for my final paper, I read an article about an Iraqi refugee who took cucumber seeds from his family’s garden in Iraq and kept them with him during this time at a Syrian refugee camp and eventually planted them in Phoenix, AZ where he was able to have a small part of his past with him in America.
I hope that the work my group and I have done this semester does not go unseen just because it was a more behind the scenes task. I am so grateful I have finally found a class that brought me the same joy I had in high school with learning outside of the classroom and seeing what my actions can do in my community. I am so happy I came across this class and met so many wonderful people who will no doubt, change the world.
One of the wonderful aspects of this class was the exposure to a variety of very interesting and exciting projects. The most difficult task was deciding which project(s) to invest my time in. I decided to focus on the Village Farmers Market because I felt it was the best opportunity to empower a community and create possibilities for alternative institutions, which I regard as necessary to creating food system justice. The experience has been challenging yet empowering. Although I feel I didn’t accomplish everything I hoped to achieve this semester, I still did more than I thought I could do.
Early on in the process I volunteered to coordinate volunteers for the Market. After a few more meetings the market manager asked me to join as an Assistant Market Manager, which I agreed to. I intended that job to mean I would still run the volunteer side of things and add the responsibility of being at each market day (Saturdays 8am-Noon, June-September – come check it out! http://tinyurl.com/kjfdwte). Instead, it led to me working on a variety of different tasks that placed me completely out of my element. I had little experience grant writing, writing job (volunteer job) descriptions, or speaking to groups with the goal of inspiring action in the form of volunteering. These tasks gave me skills I didn’t envision I could have and led to a personal growth I am very grateful for. There is something transformative about placing a seemingly insurmountable task before yourself and rising to the challenge.
One particular challenge involved running a volunteer meeting. Along with the market manager, we felt hosting a meeting of potential volunteers was vital. It was decided I should run the meeting, a task that, as we got closer to the meeting, I felt less confident in my abilities to pull off. I spent a good amount of energy trying to discover ways to energize and excite our potential volunteers, plan an agenda, create a form to gather information, etc. I arrived to the Saturday morning meeting a bit tired and less than positive about potential of the meeting. However, I left that meeting inspired. The seven volunteers, all members of the immediate community, came with positive energy, ideas and determination. I listened to people who cared deeply about co-creating a space in their community that could benefit all. Not only that but, as I should have expected, I learned that people often have better ideas than me. I felt inspired, energized, and excited to work – the very feelings I was hoping to inspire in them. Out of that meeting came the decision to host monthly volunteer meetings, which I will coordinate and facilitate. I can’t wait to see where the energy of this group will go.
For future students taking this class I hope this example will encourage them to step out of their comfort zone. I encourage you to take on more than you think you can handle rather than less. Personally, I now believe it is better to shoot for 200% of what you feel capable of doing and achieving 125% rather than meeting 100% of what you know you can accomplish. It will be scary, but with the right attitude you will achieve beyond what you imagine is possible.
But, this class is about ‘food justice’. What did I learn about that? Being interested in the topic I knew quite a bit about the topic entering the class. I definitely learned some technical information this semester about the mechanics of different aspects of the food system. For instance, I was shocked to learn about the extent of waste within the food system in areas I hadn’t considered – such as the ordering process of major grocery stores. I also learned about some fascinating projects and food related information. I am grateful to my fellow classmates for giving me much of that information – particularly Dom with his extensive mushroom and sassafras knowledge. I also learned quite a bit about creating food system justice by doing. I am convinced now that the energy and innovation necessary is present in our society. Our task now is to unleash that energy and innovation in way that the current system cannot crush or corrupt. I am particularly optimistic about the possibilities within Baltimore, specifically because of the people who are found all throughout the city. Baltimore food culture is expanding and adapting in tremendously interesting and fruitful ways.
I want to end my final post for this class by thanking a few people. Thank you Andres, Dom and Rosa for your contributions this semester to each of your projects (True Greens, the Food Forest, and New Roots respectively) and to our daily class. Your work and your knowledge are impressive, but your spirit is contagious.Thank you Nicole and Priyanka for your contributions to the market and for being easy to talk to. Thank you to my classmates who remained positive and supportive throughout. And finally, thank you Jill for everything. Your class has given me great insight into myself and how I want to live my life; namely, working with communities in Baltimore to create a new world. Thank you.
I had a great time this semester with all the Food Justice folk. In the beginning of the semester I was bummed that I had to choose only three projects to me a part of. All of them seemed so interesting and uplifting. The three I chose were due to the fact that they were the three which I knew would dirty my hands: Food Forest, True Greens, and New Roots. In these, I knew I would be planting, or digging, or hauling, all of which I enjoy.
I was very lucky to have True Greens early on. The winter was cold and wet, and while it postponed work on the food forest, I could spend some of that time in the warm, humid greenhouse filling trays with soil, or planting. Andres and the True Greens team were a fun lot. I enjoyed getting pointers here and there from Tom as I assisted in some of the Garden plantings as well. I think the first couple of harvests of the microgreens were my favorite, because there were no buyers lined up and we had the opportunity to taste these incredible flavors moments after picking them. Then we got to share that with the class and have the taste test. I told Andres at one point how glad I was to have dropped the French 201 class I would have been otherwise taking right after INDS 430 that would have prevented me from going to the greenhouse.
I was lucky to have that outlet. I was in charge of securing the compost for the Food Forest from Chesapeake Compost Works, and that proved to be a long, drawn out, frustrating, six-week affair. Shortly after being tasked with the procurement, I had the delivery date set up for March 6th. That very day, with the laden dump truck already on route, Dominic told informed me that the landscape manager of UMBC did not think the soil sturdy enough to deliver on. I had to call off the delivery. Rescheduling the delivery costs us an extra $100 or 25%.
The next four weeks consisted of Dominic, Vinnie of Chesapeake Compost, the UMBC landscape manager, and I all bouncing texts, phone calls, and emails back and forth trying to figure out when the rain might be letting up enough for us to get the dirt down. Then, just as it seemed we might be able to get the stars aligned enough for us to have it delivered, my phone started acting up, not receiving texts or phone calls until a day or two after they were made: Murphy’s Law. I was forced to pass off the last phase of compost procurement to the already burdened Dominic.
After the compost was delivered, things got moving. In a week’s time we had the cardboard and compost down, and were able to get the entire class to help us plant the about half the plants. This was my favorite part; laboring in the dirt with tangible results at the end. The end of that class period was very satisfying. It had started to look like the space we had envisioned.
We were unable to get the Garden’s funding that was set aside for the space, due to a change in the position of treasurer. That was a bit of a setback. We were hoping to have all of the plants in the ground earlier and I feel as if the task and the space is unfinished. Perhaps we can see it as an opportunity to observe the space before we finish planting in the fall. This may lead us to rethinking our plant list.
To those students coming after us to this project, I would tell them to stick with it and not get discouraged. I found myself despairing at bureaucratic roadblocks a few times this semester, both for our project and for those of other groups. Seeing the reaction of others to it, their determination in the face of it was hope inspiring. I said in class that I believed bureaucracy the bane of goodwill, but now I see patience and determination as the antidote to it.
Since the beginning of the semester my concept of “Food Justice” has remained the same in most respects, but has become more nuanced with more light being shed on all the facets of the system. The food system is woven into social, economic, cultural and basically every other aspect of our society. It’s broken nature reflecting, or casting a shadow on those systems broken in so many other ways. It also occurs to me that food is like the soil, or that it is the soil from which change must grow.
The work must continue.
This semester I worked with community organization Neighbors Without Borders to establish a farmer’s market in west Baltimore. I met with community organizers and helped to brainstorm ideas to ensure the success of the market. I worked a lot on the market website, blog and facebook page, helped recruit vendors, and organized performances for market days.
This process was an intense learning experience for me. I had never done any of these things before, so each step was a new obstacle and opportunity to grow. Above and beyond the technical aspects of putting together a web presence, I learned about the extensive effort it takes to start a farmers market. So much planning, coordinating, meeting, and discussing goes into every step. It was frustrating at times to be constrained to other people’s timelines. Most of the coordinating was done via email and that comes with its own challenges. Waiting for people to email back can be frustrating when you have limited time to complete a project or goal. One specific challenge was trying to create a webpage that met all the desires of the people who had already been working on the project for some time. But it was wonderful to see the progress that can be made when a purposeful leader is determined to make a vision into a reality.
I wish that I could have done more direct community outreach in schools and on the street to raise awareness for the market. I had really looked forward to this part of the project. But the time frame of the market and schools did not line up with the semester. I hope to continue my efforts in this area when the semester is over. This matter of time is the thing that I hope improves for future students. Our time as students is so limited, especially those of us who work as well as go to school. My advice is to have a specific and attainable goal that you need to accomplish figured out at the beginning so that you can steadily work toward it throughout the semester. Also clear communicate with members of the project so that everyone is on the same page is extremely important.
This was an important journey for me to take. It was crucial for me to learn exactly what efforts are required in order to create change in a community. I have wanted to be a part of this type of change for a long time and I am excited to see how the end product turns out. I hope that the market is a huge success and that it attracts and educates community members. I really would like to continue to try to make sure the market keeps going and has community and vendor support.
I had a fairly good concept of the food system and food system justice before the semester started. What changed throughout these past months was my ability to speak to others about it. I feel much more confident articulating what I know to others in a way that is easy to understand. I feel competent when I talk about the system and what needs to change and in my ability to ask people to get involved.
At times the work was frustrating, but it was a good experience for me. I increased my knowledge and skills and I feel more ready to do the work that I want to do independently because of my experiences.