By Emily Frisan, Nov. 2, 2021

Passion for sustainability rang through the John T. Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies on Oct. 23 as an intimate group of student volunteers gathered in partnership with ASI, the Huntley College of Agriculture and the Poly Pantry to tackle food security in the past, present and future.

The Lyle Center overlooks the campus, seeing the everlasting contributions of regenerative agriculture on the surroundings of students and the campus community. From business and early childhood studies to agriculture majors, the volunteers were cross-disciplinary and exemplify the polytechnic “learn by doing” philosophy set forth by the university.

“On one hand, our society, and our world, is experiencing many crisis points, but at the same time, it’s an exciting time. There is so much hope and opportunity for us to really come together and find innovative and transformative ways of developing a better future,” said Aaron Fox, associate professor in the Department of Plant Science.

The rainy morning did not detour the volunteers as they were split into two groups to tackle three varying levels of impact: harvesting, weeding and planting local crops.

All fruits and vegetables gathered from this event will be directly donated to the Poly Pantry, where Care Services coordinator Sandra Solano directly witnesses the need for campus resources. According to Solano, the activities are meant to be uplifting and emphasize the benefit of helping peers.

The “lowest impact” was clipping and tying 100 savory herb bundles for the Poly Pantry, tackling present food security. Sage, rosemary, thyme and oregano will accompany the pantry’s fresh fruit and vegetables to provide more flavor and variety.

Attendees address past food security needs in a “medium impact” activity by pulling weeds grown near papaya and artichoke crops planted in early August. Looking to the future, volunteers dug into the ground, planting 15 youth dragon fruit trees. Considered the “highest level of impact,” the crop was chosen for its ability to be well acclimated into the local climate and provide fresh fruit for years to come.

Just beyond the Farm Store, the Lyle Center produces vines full of fruits and vegetables over planters and walls, waiting to be ripe and picked. Fox recognizes the lack of manpower and funding available to sustain consistent fresh resources on campus.

“We want this to be an exciting opportunity folks want to do every week and we want to really create this collaborative culture on campus around food and around caring about each other and building a better future,” Fox said.

Randall Lewis Sustainable Agriculture fellows led the students through the activities, incorporating lessons of regenerative studies and methods.

Regenerative agriculture provides communities a participatory role in mitigating climate change and encourages food security by rebuilding organic carbon, restoring soil, increasing biodiversity and reducing atmospheric carbon.

Randall Lewis Sustainable Agriculture fellow Shawn Haverstick, a master’s regenerative studies student (‘19 bachelor’s communications) explained it’s a communication they’re working on to emphasize that regenerative studies is the “umbrella” where sustainability and community needs fall underneath.

The next Farm to Pantry event will take place Nov. 20, as part of a series of events in ASI’s Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week. The week-long program is designed to inform the public about resources to support basic needs, draw attention to the challenges of poverty and grow the base of volunteers through a series of educational, fundraising and service events.

Similar activities will take place, such as weeding, planting and harvesting; however, the partners are hoping to increase the amount of service activities and excitement.

Outreach Supervisor for ASI BEAT Vanessa Perez stated the 20 spots available for online registration filled up quickly, leading ASI wanting to implement a wait list.

As the semester continues, the Poly Pantry and Lyle Center are hoping to increase the number of participatory events for the niche market of people on campus who are interested in urban farming and community outreach. Students who are interested can keep up to date on the ASI portal for future volunteer events.

Featured image courtesy of Emily Frisan.

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