By: Allyson Ulsh, Environmental Resource Management Major, Sustainability and Food Systems Minor
We are a culture obsessed with food – we post pictures of our meals on Instagram, we talk about our dietary choices, and as college students, we often wonder where we can get free food on campus. But within this connect, there is a huge disconnect that I never even realized before my experiences working with urban agriculture in Camden, NJ and interning with the Student Farm: people truly don’t know where their food comes from!
Beyond the problem that some people think that their food was grown in the grocery store, others face issues where they may know where food comes from, but they cannot access it. Both components of these food issues create a further disconnect between our agricultural systems and our society – and I think that small gems like the Student Farm at Penn State are the missing link.
Entering college, I thought I was going to school to avoid working a manual labor job like farming – and the only farmers I knew were those that I saw during the annual Farm Show in Harrisburg, PA. I had no idea the broad range of what a farm could encompass, and I first realized just how much agriculture has changed when I joined a Penn State Alternative Break trip to Camden, NJ where we partnered with the Center for Environmental Transformation to learn about their sustainability goals and help with grassroot urban gardening initiatives. When we first arrived, all I knew about Camden was the crime rates, and I left with a completely different perception of the city after learning about their experiences with agriculture. This area is known as a food desert – defined as parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other whole foods due to a lack of grocery stores and farmers’ markets. To combat this, many abandoned plots of land have been converted into gardens which the community works together to grow (much like the Student Farm!). It was inspiring and eye-opening to see how a community can come together over growing healthy, nourishing food in order to combat an issue of which they cannot control. This experience is what inspired me to join the Student Farm’s mission so that I could continue my mission of educating others about our interconnectedness to the ground and contribute positively to the surrounding community.
Even though I have only been an intern for a few weeks now, this experience has changed my life. I never would have thought that there would be such a vast, incredible community surrounding one acre of land. The Student Farm brings so many people together, students invested in agricultural systems, professors curious about what we do, the Master Gardeners, elementary schoolers visiting on field trips, it is breathtaking the extent of our outreach. Looking at the definition of community (a feeling of fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals), it is easy to see how something like this can be created from something so seemingly small. No matter our backgrounds, beliefs, or identities, we are all invested in giving back to the community through the farm and getting back to our roots through growth – both in the vegetables and in ourselves.