Feeding the neighborhood youth

by Wendi Wheeler ’06

The Campus Kitchen program at Augsburg College not only feeds people’s bodies—it also feeds the minds of students. Last spring, the program moved a part of its operation from the kitchen to the garden, opening an outdoor classroom to children from the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.

The idea for Augsburg’s community garden blossomed last spring when students and staff prepared 40 plots on the west side of campus. The plots are available to Augsburg faculty, staff, and students as well as neighbors from Cedar-Riverside and Seward. Brian Noy, coordinator of the Campus Kitchen program, says, “The garden provides a beautiful entrance to our campus and a way to welcome the community. It’s a common space for people to work together to do something meaningful.”

Through an internship program developed with the Center for Service, Work, and Learning, the garden has also become an extension of Campus Kitchen. Last summer, two Augsburg students worked with youth from day programs at the Brian Coyle Center and the Confederation of Somali Community. The interns worked in the garden and in the kitchen, teaching students how food is grown and how to prepare healthy meals. “This is a whole new program that feeds youth in a fuller way,” Noy says.

Augsburg junior Ruth Senum was the “garden intern” last summer. She and approximately 50 elementary school children planted seeds, tended plants, and harvested much of the produce from four garden plots.

Senum says the children were surprised to learn where food comes from and that it can look different in the garden than in the grocery store or on their plates.

“When I showed them the broccoli plant, they thought it was huge,” she says. “They only see it all chopped up.” She says students also were interested in the fact that some plants have flowers before they produce fruit or vegetables. “Just seeing the whole process from seed to produce was a very new experience for them,” she says.

The children were disappointed about the limitations of a Minnesota growing season. “They asked where the banana tree was, and it was interesting for them to understand why we can’t grow a lot of fruit here.”

The internship taught Senum, an education major, techniques for her future classroom. “I thought of the watering, weeding, and harvesting as our classroom chores,” she says, but she discovered the students liked being in the garden more than they liked doing garden chores. “You need to find a good system to keep them working,” she says.

Senum also learned that students liked interactive learning activities much more than sit-down learning. “They wanted to talk to each other, run around, do arts and crafts,” she says. “Getting them out of their desks and walking around is important.”

The garden also serves as a learning environment for Augsburg students, but Noy says opportunities were limited because the bulk of the work is needed when most students are away from campus. As a solution, a simple greenhouse was added to the garden area, extending the growing season by one month in the spring and in the fall. “It makes a huge impact because we can engage actual students and classes outside the garden and allow them to get involved with the growing space,” Noy says.

The students in Environmental Connections, the introductory course in Augsburg’s environmental studies major, used the greenhouse in the fall to grow vegetables and herbs for their final project. The class studied how food fits into socio-economic and ecological systems and prepared and served a meal in the campus dining center (see story).

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