A SYNERGY OF SYZYGY

by Jane Hoinville, Master Gardener

An interesting synergy occurred on campus late this winter. Synergy around the concept that, as Beth Kruger '05 put it: "The benefits of community gardening are endless". A syzygy of three events aligned, though they might have remained unconnected had it not been for the energy created by the outreach and debate on the new Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership (ACSJL).

Jeanne Hess, Professor of Physical Education, was starting to put together a class: "Gardening for Fitness." Yes, you read that correctly: a P.E. class in gardening. As she put it: "Why not P.E., why not?!" She had hired a alumna Seema Jolly '07, who had spent a year teaching gardening with the Youth Garden Project in Moab, Utah, to teach the class. The gardening class was immediately fully subscribed.

Meanwhile Alison Geist, Director of the Mary Jane Underwood Stryker Institute for Service Learning, working with the Farms to K student organization, had booked alumnus Kenneth Mulder '92 (see sidebar at the end of this story) to come to campus to speak. He's the Farm Manager and Adjunct Assistant Professor for Environmental Studies at Green Mountain College in Vermont.

His visit shortly followed that of Shea Howell, Professor of Communications at Wayne State University, who came to campus to talk about social justice and succeeded in energizing some staff members about community gardens. With the stars thus aligned, an eclectic collection of staff members with interests in gardening, food, and justice started meeting together to cultivate the momentum from winter into spring. They included: Sally Arent, Administrative Secretary to the Dean of Students; Sherry Connelly, Office Coordinator for the Kalamazoo College Fund; Jane Hoinville, Prospect Research Assistant; Deb Pattison, Office Coordinator for English, Religion, Philosophy, and Classics; Jerry Vincent, Painter in Facilities Management; and Carolyn Zinn, Associate Director of Web Services, among others. They have created an ongoing synergy surrounding what might otherwise have remained a one-time class and two campus visits.

In context
The outreach and discussion on social justice has been intense this past winter because of the ACSJL, but there is also an extensive history of loosely connected projects, SIPs and research around food, the environment and social justice. The College has also committed to rethinking the environmental consequences of its landscaping practices in its recently published Climate Action Plan.

Farms to K started with a first year seminar taught by Amelia Katanski, Associate Professor of English, called "Commitments" in the fall of 2005. It has grown into the local food movement on campus and with Katanski's guidance and the support of the Mary Jane Underwood Stryker Institute for Service-Learning, it works with local community groups, such as Fair Food Matters and local farmers to raise awareness of and promote local food on campus. Twice a year they sponsor the Local Foods cook-off in which teams compete to cook the most tasty dishes made with locally grown produce.

There also exists a little known garden on campus. It's rooted in a grant Beth Kruger applied for while she was on study abroad in Chang Mai, Thailand. She started the garden at Henderson Castle, but later received permission to relocate it on campus and the funds to buy the necessary tools. In an article written in 2005 about community gardens, Kruger said: "Community gardens can be a great community building tool. They create opportunities for neighbors to work together".

Seema Jolly was one of the original group of students to collaborate on Kruger's project. The group continues under the moniker, DIRT, which stands for Digging In Renewable Turf. They have a flourishing strawberry patch, the berries from which current co-president Ben Cooper '10 swears are the best he's ever tasted. Fellow co-president Tammy Pheuphong '10 notes that each year DIRT plants a variety of crops, including cucumbers, lettuce, broccoli, tomatoes, radishes, carrots, green beans, bok choi, and basil.

And DIRT's not alone. According to Mulder, community gardens are growing at many colleges and universities. "I do not believe we are far from a time when gardens and farms will be as common on college campuses as athletic fields and libraries." He further asserts that prospective students are using the presence or absence of a community garden as a criterion for choosing a college or university.

Emerging shoots
What has emerged from all of the energy and interest is a concept for a College garden that involves community in two ways. It is being dug and planted by students, both those in the PE class and those who are just keen to be involved. The latter group includes staff and alumni. Hess applied for and received a small grant from ACSJL, so the project is now equipped. In the fall, another PE class may harvest the vegetables and ready the garden ready for the following spring. There are two targets for the cornucopia: students, through Sodexho, the college food service; and members of the greater Kalamazoo community, through distribution by a local food bank.

Where does our garden grow? Currently, and temporarily, in the backyard of a College-owned house on Academy Street. The small space will be perfect for a pilot project, but ...

Future space
Mulder emphasized the importance of finding the right space for a permanent garden. The backyard is fairly small, lacks visibility, and may prove too shady. He also envisioned much wider curricular involvement, including soil science and botany, the business side of selling produce, and the aesthetics and design of visually appealing vegetable gardens.

Imagine espaliered fruit trees against south facing buildings; raised beds on the flat roofs of Anderson and Facilities Management; garden terraces, perhaps with a classical theme on the hill below Humphrey House; an organic garden up the hill from the library; and a garden integrated into the plans for the new natatorium and wellness center. Possibilities are endless if funding aligns with imagination. Students could learn the benefits of locally grown food, the know-how to grow their
"We are not far from a time when students choose a college based on its community garden."
own, and the skills to pass that knowledge to others. Community gardening could grow beyond PE to include science, art, business, philosophy, sociology, psychology, education, environmental sciences, and more. What could be more liberal arts than that?

Liberal Arts Soil
by Jane Hoinville

Kalamazoo College transformed Kenneth Mulder '92 from a "West Point dropout, with an interest in chemistry, to a feminist mathematician". He says he chose Kalamazoo College because of its late start date: "K" classes hadn't yet started when he discovered West Point wasn't for him.

Kalamazoo College turned out to be the right place for the Ada (Mich.) native. He did his foreign study in Budapest, Hungary, a place that continues to crop up in his life. After a Masters degree in mathematics from the University of Oregon, he returned to Budapest as a Fulbright Scholar and spent his free time volunteering in the countryside at a Red Cross refugee shelter. His interest in social justice kindled, he became a mission-intern with Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church. They sent him to Sri Lanka for what should have been three years as a human rights worker. He was too effective, however, at raising awareness of the plight of civilians caught in the crossfire of Sri Lanka's long-running civil war and was sent home after one year by the Sri Lankan government.

He landed back in Kalamazoo as an adjunct Math Instructor at Kalamazoo College. "If you ever get the chance," he says, "teach at 'K'. It's great fun." While teaching math he was learning farming. In Sri Lanka he had witnessed first-hand war's destruction of agriculture and food supplies. He volunteered at Tillers International and learned how to farm and work with draft animals. Next step was a deeper immersion into farming, and he and his wife, Emily, homesteaded for four years, selling bread, milk, eggs, beef, and vegetables through the Mulder CSA and Bakery. He then earned a Ph.D. in Natural Resources from the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont. Post-doctoral research at the Kellogg Biological Station followed.

All the strands - math, social justice, farming and teaching - unite in his current position: Farm Manager, Research Associate and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at Green Mountain College. "I'm basically a math and science guy who loves good food, who loves to teach, and who is very concerned about social and ecological justice." He focuses on diverse and sustainable farming. At GMC he has significantly grown the farm in both production and student participation; introduced a 12-credit summer farming course; and started a three-credit oxen course that culminates with a driving test (oxen, not tractors) that was featured on NPR's Day to Day . He says he is also developing a study abroad element - in Budapest! "I want to put farming squarely in the middle of the liberal arts tradition - where it belongs as an interdisciplinary endeavor with deep ties to our history and culture."

Photo 1
Kenneth Mulder meets with current "K" students

Photo 2
Wolf Williams readies the soil

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1 RESPONSE TO A SYNERGY OF SYZYGY
Carolyn Zinn, Master Gardener, K'82 on May 18, 2010 at 11:46 am
Jane does an excellent job of describing the synergy and syzygy around this community garden effort. I am thrilled to be involved!
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