Planting a seed for civic service in Susquehanna Valley

Food insecurity in Pennsylvania

Julie Spierer, Special Features Co-Editor

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Civic engagement is a large part of the University’s culture. Many students become involved in organizations that they are passionate about, or volunteer their time at establishments, groups, or local areas in the community. Specifically, students can express their passion and appreciation for the environment and the Earth’s beauty through volunteering their time with the Lewisburg Community Garden.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that one in eight Americans suffer from hunger each year, a statistic which includes the countless number of Americans who lack access to healthy foods. This food insecurity is a growing problem in all regions of the country, affecting both cities and rural areas. In order to increase the quantity of sustainable foods, the Lewisburg Community Garden works with participants and volunteers to secure nutritional, locally grown foods for the Susquehanna Valley area.

Nutritionally insecure regions in the area are commonly referred to as “food deserts.” The USDA defines food deserts as “urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food.”

The city of Harrisburg has recently been labeled as a food desert due to its limited access to healthful and affordable food options. Many street corners are home to small convenience shops or fast food stores that do not supply nutritious options.

 

About the Lewisburg Community Garden

A joint program between the University and the Borough of Lewisburg, the Lewisburg Community Garden strives to aid local food security programs through the cultivation of organic produce.

In the summer of 2011, Director of Civic Engagement & Service-Learning Janice Butler and Rabbi Serena Fujita applied to become a part of the President’s Interfaith Community Service Initiative, which encouraged university campuses to develop programming focused on community service. The program aimed to bring a diverse group of participants together to participate in community service. The University chose to focus their initiative on food insecurity. This focus resulted in the creation of the Community Garden.

In March of 2012, the borough of Lewisburg approved the space for the Community Garden. Since its establishment, it has expanded to half of an acre of growing space, which is comprised of plots for community members to rent space and a one-fourth acre plot dedicated to the crop growth that contributes to local food bank donations.

 

Enriching sustainable food knowledge for all

The Garden aspires to provide participants with opportunities that enrich their knowledge about  growing food in sustainable and environmentally friendly ways. Through educating participants in the techniques of gardening, as well as the benefits of healthy, locally grown foods, the Garden aims to expand the culture of cooperative, healthy, low-cost home gardening.

“A garden is a great platform to learn about many things beyond food production. In fact, faculty have brought classes to the garden for service learning on a wide-variety of topics, including how we use public space, environmental science and more. We end up learning about ecology, plant biology, economics and politics in the garden. More than just food grows there,” Jennifer Partica, Community Garden Coordinator, said.

Located at the intersection of North Water Street and St. Anthony Street, the Garden consists of individual plots of land that different groups of individuals may cultivate. The Garden welcomes families and groups, as well as individuals.

“Engineers, biology majors, environmental studies classes, social justice Res College members, management students, fraternities, sororities, faith-based groups and multicultural organizations have all contributed to its success. Community members are learning from our faculty and staff and also teaching our garden plot renters and our students. We are teaching and learning all the time at the garden, in ways that serve the public good and promote civic responsibility,” Butler said.

“Working in the community garden was a great opportunity to get some fresh air while also giving back to the community. I had no idea that the garden even existed before I volunteered. The people that run the community garden were so appreciative of our work and were so excited to share their great experiences involving their work in the garden. They even gave us some yummy watermelon at the end,” Annalise Stube ’20 said.

 

A commitment to civic engagement

The Community Garden also works closely with the University to host the Community Harvest. The Harvest is a weekly hot meal program that welcomes people of all ages, income, race, or religious affiliation to enjoy the company of others and the healthful benefits of a hot, nutritious meal. The event extends nourishment to 200 people, on average, in the Susquehanna Valley area.

Universities around the country are determined to encourage students to pursue active civil engagement opportunities. Indeed, over 1,100 university presidents and chancellors have recently signed the Campus Compact 30th Anniversary Action Statement. This statement essentially proclaims a commitment to emphasizing the importance of civic engagement through specific programs and courses that help to educate students on the importance of their role in the community. University President John Bravman has recently signed this contract, renewing and expanding the University’s commitment to civic engagement.

“The Lewisburg Community Garden is a shining example of institutional civic engagement. Students are learning about environmental stewardship, organic gardening, and food insecurity. They are also building community with each other and local residents,” Butler said.

The garden enables all who visit to sow the seeds that will sprout into a nutritious and engaged future.

“The garden is a beautiful space, and I encourage everyone to take a walk through it and check it out. However, the garden only truly comes to life when there are people tending it. This year, we’ve had more volunteers than in previous years, and it shows. This is the last full week of October, and we’re still harvesting cabbage, potatoes, carrots and much more. That is due to the hard work of our student workers and many volunteers. Volunteers enjoy working in the garden because they get to enjoy some fresh air, learn something about gardening and know that their volunteer service is important and meaningful to our broader community in a very concrete way — we are helping to feed people,” Partica said.

The Garden will likely close sometime in early November, but will reopen as early as March or April of next year.

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