Planting the seeds of food justice
Gettysburg College’s Center for Public Service (CPS) has been recognized at the highest levels for their community engagement. In fact, largely thanks to their work, the College recently earned a Community Engagement Classification from the Carnegie Foundation and was named to The President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll.
However, CPS’ efforts go beyond the great work they do through community engagement and direct action – and one of the areas they’ve made big impacts in is food justice.
Read on to find out more about how CPS, and Gettysburg College’s students, faculty, staff, and alums are making a difference.
An all-encompassing example: Painted Turtle Farm
The work of CPS spans a number of areas – from education to coalition building to direct action. But perhaps the most all-encompassing example is the College’s Painted Turtle Farm (PTF), a campus-community hub for food justice.
The PTF is a Certified Naturally Grown Community Garden and Training Center where students and local low-income and immigrant families work together to share food traditions, grow vegetables and create a discourse on sustainable agriculture; increase the availability of fresh, culturally-desirable food for low-income and immigrant community members; create a pathway towards larger-scale farming for interested community members by providing them with resources needed to get started, technical training and opportunities to promote direct marketing at local farmers markets; and be a center for community reflection for social and systemic change.
Student volunteers have been involved in all aspects of small scale organic agriculture and manage projects year-round, including planning, planting, growing, and harvesting a variety of fruits and vegetables, to improving soil integrity and biodiversity in the local ecosystems, to reaching out and educating the student body, children and local community about the importance of local and sustainable agriculture. From the beginning, the Painted Turtle Farm has been committed to four key components: outreach, education, research and sustainability.
Katie McCrea, a former PTF intern said, “I believe that it is a human right to have access to healthy, whole foods. Food justice, to me, brings to the forefront many systemic issues in our society today. It tells the story of the land and the history of food in America. For many communities, food and farming hold a traumatic past or even present. To me, food justice is trying to reconcile that trauma by creating a fair and just food system that has never truly existed in America.”
McCrea continues her work on food justice issues through her work with national nonprofit Foodcorps, where she is a service member in Charlotte, N.C., connecting kids with real food. She calls her job “a pretty incredible gig.”
Health sciences Prof. Amy Dailey is just one of the faculty members who works with students on community-based research around food justice issues.
“We’re trying to understand what people are experiencing everyday with not having access to fresh healthy food, for example, because they make too much money and don’t qualify for federal assistance. There’s a significant percentage of people in Adams County who fall into that situation, which is interesting given how agrarian this area is,” Dailey said. “Understanding the needs of that population, and how we as a county can make a difference is vital. What are the social, economic, and policy pieces of it that we can impact? Our research aims to better understand that population, so we can serve them better.”
One of the projects Dailey and her students have worked on is the Adams County Food Policy Council’s Photovoice. The Photovoice project is a form of community-based participatory research where participants took photographs of their experiences with food, then discuss the images at focus group sessions. Read more about Dailey’s work with Healthy Options and Photovoice.
Dailey says the project is a way to bring out discussions that don’t always come out in conversations or by asking questions – a way to get to know people and build trust within the community, meaning the Photovoice project also serves to create cross-cultural and generational dialogue in the community.
Photovoice is just one of the projects that has been used to create meaningful dialogue about food justice issues within the community.
Another opportunity for dialogue is through the Circles Initiative, a grassroots, program that focuses on families with the drive to lift themselves out of poverty, and surrounds them with the people and resources to help them along their journey to self-sustainability.
Devan (Grote) White ’11 started out making the meals for Adams County Circles’ weekly meeting, since she was a CPS Summer Fellow working with the Campus Kitchen at Gettysburg College (See more about CK below). However, it did not take her long to get involved with Circles programming beyond the dinner. She became an Ally in the program, and was paired with a Circle Leader who was working their way out of poverty. Inspired by her Ally’s story, she created the above Food Gap video, which is used in trainings and classrooms around the country. Today, she continues to serve as the chair of the Guiding Coalition for the Circles Initiative in Connellsville, PA.
“Food in general is fascinating to me. I love to cook, eat, and share a meal with others. For me, breaking bread with someone is the best way to build a relationship,” she said. “With that in mind, it is amazing to me that we have enough food on this earth to end hunger, yet hunger persists for various reasons. It was not until getting involved at Gettysburg that I realized how much people in our neighborhoods lack the option for health foods and food in general. It is unacceptable, so if I can do something to change that, even for one person, I will do so.”
Because of the College’s work with the Adams County Food Policy Council and other community partners, a number of food-related policies and programs in Adams County have been affected. Healthy Options has helped families experiencing food insecurity purchase healthy foods since 2011. Coupled with vouchers to purchase foods at a local farmers market are educational and community building activities.
Another shift has been the availability of EBT access at farmers markets, so individuals receiving SNAP benefits can have access to farm-direct produce. Students have also assisted with the double dollars program, which incentivizes the use of SNAP benefits at farmers markets.
As the Adams County Food Policy Council’s work and presence in the community grew, the need for a coordinator was evident. A Gettysburg Hospital Community Partnership grant split the cost with the College in 2012-13, and CPS hosts and supervises an AmeriCorps*VISTA member who has been able to build capacity and propel the work of the Food Policy Council.
The purpose of AmeriCorps*VISTA is to eradicate poverty in America. VISTAs are placed in communities of need in one way or another, be it food access, healthcare access, education access, and more.
Heather Thomas, the current VISTA in Gettysburg, has focused much of her work on Healthy Options.
“I am passionate about justice issues because there are many ways in which our current food system is unfair and outdated. For example, when a person’s income no longer qualifies them for federal assistance programs, they are often unable to make up for the benefits lost and still struggle to make ends meet. Decisions have to made and certain bills take priority over others,” Thomas said. “Unfortunately, the money that is left for food is often not enough to purchase nutritious and fresh items, but rather spent on shelf-stable and cheap items, which are often lacking in nutritional value. A bag of potato chips should not be cheaper than a bag of apples, especially when we live in Pennsylvania Apple County and are known as the ‘Fruit Belt of the North’. It is important to me that all people have access to good, fresh, nutritious food. If it is local, that is great too, you’re supporting your farmers. With all of the farms in Adams County, the lack of access for many to this produce is shocking.”
Gettysburg has been providing direct action through the Campus Kitchen at Gettysburg College since 2007. The Gettysburg College location is the first Campus Kitchen in PA.
The project was initiated by Louisa Polos '07 and is currently managed by the Center for Public Service and student Program Coordinators. Louisa first learned about The Campus Kitchens Project as a volunteer of DC Central Kitchen. She left inspired by the experience and wanted to start a program at her school, so she made it happen. Check out the Winter 2009 Gettysburg magazine story on Campus Kitchen’s origins.
The Campus Kitchens Project aims to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities by rescuing prepared food that has not been served from the College’s dining services, local hotels, restaurants and caterers; repackaging and combining those meals with additional foods; and delivering the meals through partner agencies while educating and connecting with community members in need.
Since November 2007, the Campus Kitchen at Gettysburg College has served more than 45,000 meals, recovered over 81,000 pounds of food, and almost 6,000 volunteer hours have been invested.
Other opportunities for direct action exist though food drives, the Gleaning Project, Painted Turtle Farm, and Sherfy Garden.
Food justice and food system education has been a key component in the curriculum across disciplines at Gettysburg College, including health sciences, environmental studies, and more. Faculty members like Dailey are involving students through community-based research and experiences.
CPS also supports immersion trips centered around food justice issues, which have been running for a number of years in Adams County, Washington, D.C and Philadelphia.
Students have also played important roles in partnering with the community for the development and implementation of educational programs and initiatives like Local Foods Guide, cooking and gardening classes, Healthy Options, and more.
On a global scale, the Adams County Young Grower Alliance also partners with the Nicaraguan community of Talolinga through Project Gettysburg Leon to improve family nutrition and produce vegetables for income generation. Students also support similar programming through a partnership with the Kisumu Medical and Education Trust (KMET) in Kenya. KMET is an indigenous Kenyan non-governmental organization dedicated to the provision of quality reproductive health and education.
Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.
Posted: Wed, 4 Mar 2015
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