Not Just Your Mother’s Garden

By Ian Meier, Local Food Security

In July, I received a notification that there was an opening at the Environmental Center for the position of Assistant Garden Manager in the campus garden plot. At the time, surrounded by an arid desert landscape, it was hard to imagine returning to the irrigated greenery of Fort Lewis. However, weeks later, after the interview and hiring process was complete, I got my first look at where I would be working. Upon stepping foot in the garden, I was immediately struck by the diversity and abundance of plants grown. I was welcomed by beds of kale, chard, tomatoes, peas, garlic, onions, leeks, potatoes, arugula, borage, corn, carrots and squash, just to list a few. It was such a wonderful surprise to see how much could be produced from one quarter-acre plot.

As a student focusing in the field of environmental policy one might assume that I would be well acquainted with one of the Environmental Center’s most impactful ventures. However, like many Fort Lewis students, before accepting this position, I knew very little about the Campus Garden. I had never actually been to the far northeastern corner of campus where the garden and greenhouse are located. This is an issue that comes up quite regularly during our weekly garden meetings and within the Environmental Center. The garden is an incredible resource for Fort Lewis serving as a production site, educational tool, and model for the potential that lies in local sustainable agriculture. In addition, food produced from the garden is sold to Sodexo and incorporated into dining hall meals.

But for me, the campus garden has become so much more than that. At the risk of sounding exceedingly cliche, I must admit that the garden has become a sanctuary and place of comfort to me. The time I spend working in the garden is grounding, it allows me to clear my head and detach from the stresses of school and life. I look forward to my Tuesdays and Thursdays when I get to spend several hours working there. Completing a task that does not involve straining my eyes in the glow of artificial light is a welcome relief. I find myself learning in a different way, noticing aspects of the local landscape I would otherwise be oblivious to. I see mint growing in front of Reed, currants and mulberries on the quads, apples growing near the rim trail and juniper berries in front of Jones hall. My hope is that over time, more students will visit the garden and share in some of the education and comfort I have found there.

Every Thursday from 1-2:30 during college hour, we invite students and community members to join us for our a garden work day. In helping the EC staff you will not only be aiding in the production of healthy, organic and local food but also taking time for yourself to detach and recharge. Whether you send the time planting winter rye, watering garlic or harvesting the season’s best purple kale, I promise you will go into the rest of your day with a clear head space and deeper connection to your local environment.

A Lesson on Snow at the EC Winter Retreat 2013

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

-Robert Frost

Snow muffles the sounds in the La Plata Canyon. Last weekend for the winter retreat, a group of us from the Environmental Center hiked to “The Naked Lady Hut” for activities and some delicious food. Though the food was delectable and the leadership workshops enlightening, it is not the stay in the cabin that struck me most about this Saturday. A simple comment Rachel made offhand in one of her “snow spiels” grabbed my attention and got me thinking.

Imagine the spring, when three days of nonstop snowing will mean snowmelt high in the mountains and a full river of runoff. Imagine the month of May when the river will feed into the fields of crops and the farmers will be happy. Imagine late summer when the lack of early snow will create less water for the rivers, making farmers not so happy. I cannot speak for all farmers but I know for certain that some people are not aware of the sources of their water beyond their faucets. If we do not have the knowledge that our own water comes from runoff from the mountains, we may not care about fighting for the conservation of the mountains.

This lack of knowledge of the connectedness of aspects of the environment leads to something else of which I have become acutely aware. I always assumed that everyone knew how plants grow from seed to sprout to fruit to table but my eyes were opened this year through the Campus Sustainability Team’s project: The Real Food Challenge. The Real Food Challenge strives to collaborate with college cafeterias to use 20% “real” food by 2020. Through a survey, our team saw that most students wanted more local, healthy food involved on campus and decided to embrace this challenge. In the case of the Real Food Challenge, real food is classified as local, environmentally sound, humane and fairly traded; or any combination of the four. Along with attempting to bring this to the FLC campus, we will also work to educate the campus about what “real” food is and where our current food comes from versus real food. Education will be a large piece of this project in addition to promoting local food. This project is long term, and will not be easy but by tackling this issue, hopefully we can reconnect the circle of understanding food and its source.

Just as farmers need the mountains and snowfall for their crops and we need the runoff for our watersheds, the understanding of the connections between our resources and us is necessary. If we can teach others about where food comes from or at least encourage them to conscious of it, it may lead to the awareness of other resources. Starting with the food our school consumes is one step towards reconnecting our species with its life source.

-Hallie Wright

cooking vegetables for burritos

EC zero waste team member Jessica Smyke cooks vegetables for burritos. All EC students that attended the retreat enjoyed cooking and eating the delicious food. Photo courtesy of Rachel Landis.group of Fort Lewis College Environmental Center students       EC staff members learn about leadership while looking out at the beautiful snowy mountains in the Naked Lady Hut in the La Plata Canyon. Photo Courtesy of Rachel Landis.