University Visits: Food System Studies and Farm Programs

This week I visited three universities that have active food system studies, farms, and/or sustainable agriculture programs: Green Mountain College (Poultney, VT), University of Vermont (Burlington, VT), and Warren Wilson College (Asheville, NC). I visited each campus, spoke with students, teachers and counselors, and did quite a bit of my own research as well. The trip gave me a chance to not only scope out some potential programs and graduate schools that fit my interests, but also broadened the lens of my study to encompass farm and garden programs at institutions of higher education. It raised the question of how educational food and farming programs are being implemented at colleges and universities in various parts of the country, and what impact is it having on the student body. All three schools were rather unique and differed in their approach to food and farming programs.

While visiting GMC I received a copy of a book titled Rebuilding the Foodshed, written by GMC professor Philip Ackerman-Leist, who established GMC’s college farm and agriculture curriculum, who directs the Farm & Food Project, and who started the Masters in Sustainable Food Systems program. The Book is a “Community Resilience Guide”, a collaboration between Chelsea Green Publishing and the Post Carbon Institute. I spent some time on http://resilience.org which has a wide selection of resources surrounding topics like food & water, the environment, society, economy, and energy.

A few notes from my brief visit to the site:

  • Plant This Movie ~ About urban farming around the world
  • “Every living thing on this planet depends upon the life of the soil.” Earthworm lives matter!
  • “Relationships trump transactions.”
  • “We are earthworms in the soil of a restorative economy, doing our small but vital part to preserve and restore the fertility of the American Dream.”
  • New Slow City: Living simply in the world’s fastest city by William Powers
  • Foragers, Farmers and Fossil Fuels: How human values evolve by Ian Morris

In Rebuilding the Foodshed, there is a small section on School Gardens, where Ackerman-Leist asks the question: So what does it take to start a school garden?

  • They are community-oriented projects
  • It is important to have as many people invested as possible (kids & community)
  • They are community gardens, not just school gardens
  • It requires everyone to consider the process of installing and maintaining it, as well as what it will look like
  • Facilitation and organizing are key
  • Have to know “who’s coming to the table and what are they bringing”
  • The end result is not the garden, it is the long-term educational value of what the garden brings to the school
  • Gardens need to be part of our public policy – targeted curricula that meet state standards and have appropriate staffing
  • They shouldn’t be dependent on outside funding and the PTA
  • JFK’s idea of physical education should be applied to school gardens
  • Why can’t we link the concepts of healthy food and activity-movement?
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