Gardening plots combat food insecurity

Jess Matthis/the Carolinian

Jess Matthis/the Carolinian

Jess Matthis
  Staff Writer

On any given Wednesday evening, one could expect to find Americorps VISTA, Allison Plitman, at garden plots 41 and 42 of UNCG’s Campus Garden. Wednesday, Sept. 9, was the Office of Leadership and Service-Learning’s planting day at plots 41 and 42 in the campus garden; which is home to about 50 total gardening plots.

The planting of collards and Swiss chard was led by Plitman and Kristina Snader, Assistant Director for Community Engagement, marking the beginning of the Office of Leadership and Service-Learning’s gardening efforts for the 2015-2016 academic school year.

“My position’s focus is food insecurity,” Plitman explained. “I really love gardening… I’m here doing a year of service before getting my master’s, I’m here to help local organizations get more volunteers, or meet each other and make connections.”

Plitman cited sustainability as an important part of her projects, “When I leave next August, all this stuff will still be happening even though I’m not here.”

As for the purpose of the Office of Leadership and Service-Learning’s garden plots, Plitman said, “All of the produce is going to go to Backpack Beginnings.” She explained that Backpack Beginnings, “Has food pantries at middle schools and high schools for kids who are food insecure.”

According to their website, Backpack Beginnings feeds 620 people weekly through their food pantries, and 1600 children weekly via “Food Backpacks,” which aim to provide food for children who depend on free or reduced-price meals at school, but often go hungry at home on the weekend.

“Service without reflection is like hearing but not listening,” Plitman said, “there’s something that’s so tangible about picking vegetables and giving them to an organization that’s going to feed kids,” she enthusiastically explained.

“That’s the kind of stuff that stays with you. I just graduated with my Bachelor’s degree, and I had a lot of great experiences. I studied abroad, I had multiple jobs, I did a lot of cool stuff… But my favorite was my volunteering. That’s what I really miss.”

Aside from the Office of Leadership and Service-Learning’s two plots, the UNCG Campus Garden offers plots to faculty and staff, as well as students or student groups. Currently, all but eight of the 50 plots in the garden are claimed by various people and groups, including the Student Gardening Club, Dining Services, Bio Club, Nutrition Club, the Library Staff, the Fencing Club and others.

Programs advocating gardening for community engagement or service-learning have grown and become more popular in North Carolina in the past several years.

This seems to be especially true of Greensboro, which is home to several community outreach programs of this type. Most of these outreach programs, like Backpack Beginnings, focus on food insecurity, which is a major issue for families in many parts of North Carolina.

According to Backpack Beginnings, almost 20 percent of Guilford County residents are food insecure. Programs like Farmer Food Share and Food Recovery Network, which, according to Plitman, are quite popular with UNCG students, also aim to combat hunger issues.

In regards to the popularity of programs in Greensboro and UNCG designed to fight hunger and educate people about food and nutrition, Plitman said, “It’s really encouraging. People love [those] opportunities.”One of Plitman’s ultimate goals, she said, is student engagement.

“There’s just something so good about giving. So I want to widen the opportunities for students to be able to do that. There’s a lot of cool opportunities already, it’s just getting people to know what’s going on.”

Plitman expressed the view that a complete “university experience” is about more than an academic setting.

“If you only [experience the classrooms], you won’t get a full picture of the school you’re at, or the city you’re in… It’s nice to give back to the community.” Gardening is a way for her to de-stress, she explained, and for students to have, “A nice little break from being inside all the time.”

As for the Office of Leadership and Service-Learning’s plots in the garden, Plitman said, “This is only our second week working with this,” however, she expects student involvement to increase.

“We’re just trying to get students who just want to come and dig in the dirt with us,” she said with a laugh. The only requirements are “closed toe shoes, and that’s about it! If people have [gardening] experience… We’d love to have that. And if you don’t, we’ll learn together!”

Categories: Community, Features

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: