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Saving Food, Feeding People

More than 3,350 pounds of food — about the weight of a Ford Mustang — was donated to families in the Grinnell community during the 2013­–14 school year.

This intensive effort was led by Dylan Bondy ’16, who started the Grinnell College chapter of the Food Recovery Network (FRN) in May 2013. FRN is a national organization that works with college students to fight food waste and hunger.

Bondy, who serves as the Grinnell chapter president of FRN, works with the College dining hall to recover leftovers to feed local people in need.

How Food Recovery and Distribution Works

College dining hall staff members pack leftover food from the kitchen and the line — where food is served to students — into large, single-use aluminum trays.

After each meal, a student volunteer picks up the food, weighs it — to record in FRN’s national database — and puts it into the student organization’s refrigerator in the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center.

The next day, three students drive that food a few blocks to the First Presbyterian Church. With the help of church volunteers, especially Dave and Linda Cranston, the food is distributed to people who need it. This happens five days a week during the school year.

Another important partner is Mid-Iowa Community Action, which verifies that people are eligible for food assistance and provides vouchers for their weekly food pickups.

This smoothly operating partnership and distribution network didn’t exist a year ago. Thanks to the help of many people in the community and on campus, including the Center for Religion, Spirituality, and Social Justice, the project is going strong.

Bondy says, “The work we’re doing in the community is substantive. We are out there in the field, meeting people in the community, putting food in their hands. FRN volunteers (or FRNds) get to form meaningful bonds with the people of Grinnell and help support their livelihood.”

The program is expanding for 2014–15. The Hy-Vee grocery store in Grinnell is a confirmed new partner, Bondy says. Hy-Vee will donate food that is past its sell-by date, but is still good.

How the Idea Evolved

 Students talking to diners while serving foodWhen Bondy was a first-year student, he saw students loading trays with way more food than they could eat. The uneaten food — full slices of pizza, burgers, chicken breasts, whole salads — was composted or thrown out.

Bondy wanted to do something about the waste. He was talking to his mom about it one day. She told him about an interview she’d seen with a guy named Ben Simon from the Food Recovery Network, who spoke about of his efforts to start a national student movement for food recovery and waste reduction. She urged Bondy to get Grinnell involved.

“As soon as I found out about Food Recovery Network, I knew I had to bring it to our campus,” Bondy says. He worked with Mary Zheng ’15 to get the project going.

About 30 students volunteer their time and effort each semester. Additionally, more than 200 students subscribe to the College’s FRN email list.

Educating Students About Food Waste

One of the group’s early and ongoing efforts is to educate students about food waste. Chapter volunteers weigh and evaluate food from student trays, which can’t be recovered for use.

This activity is paired with a “Take what you’ll eat” campaign. Bondy even took a documentary film short course and made a film about tray waste at Grinnell.

Bondy says, “For a while, I definitely spent more time on FRN than academics because I could see the tangible impact, that students were making really valuable changes and connections in the greater community. As a sociology major, I often get sick of just seeing social change in the textbook — it’s all about the real world application, making a concrete change.”

Food Waste & Hunger Summit

Five members of Grinnell’s FRN chapter attended the Food Waste & Hunger Summit in April 2014, the first of its kind. Students from all over the U.S. discussed strategies for reducing hunger and food waste in their communities. “We got to see a new national movement that’s making a substantive difference around the U.S.,” Bondy says.

Because Grinnell College has the first successful rural food recovery model in the Food Recovery Network, Bondy led a session entitled “Innovative Solutions to Rural Hunger,” in which he shared the chapter’s story and provided a sort of road map to rural food recovery.

“Through student food recovery efforts,” Bondy says, “our generation is going to make the change this nation needs, and we’re going to see hunger in the U.S. be greatly alleviated.”

Mary Zheng ’15, from from Gainesville, Va., is majoring in anthropology and Chinese.

Dylan Bondy ’16 is a sociology major from San Rafael, Calif. and Delary Beach, Fla.

Differences Foster Friendship

Christine Ajinjeru ’14 traveled nearly 8,000 miles to get to Grinnell College. Sarah Burnell ’14 went less than 8 blocks. Despite their differences—cultural, geographic, and otherwise—or perhaps because of them, the two Academic All-American track stars have become best friends.

Christine Ajinjeru ’14

Choosing Grinnell

One thing they did have in common was that neither of them thought they would go to Grinnell — Ajinjeru because she’d never heard of it and Burnell because it was too close to home.

Ajinjeru thought that since much of her education had been in the British system, she might go to a commonwealth school. After speaking to a representative of Grinnell who visited her school and talking with current Grinnell students also from Uganda, she made up her mind without even visiting.

For Burnell, though, the visit made the difference, even though it was a very short trip. “I just felt the connection at Grinnell. I sensed community here,” Burnell says.

Running Track

They didn’t come to track in the same way either. Burnell had been running since high school, both track and cross country. Ajinjeru didn’t try track until she got to Grinnell. Both were on the 4x400 team, and both went to nationals — Burnell for the 1,500 meter run and Ajinjeru for the 400. Both were named to the Academic All-America list. They would share a hotel room during away track meets, and watching an episode or two of Say Yes to the Dress became a regular pre-meet ritual.

They grew closest during their senior year through track events. “We went to nationals together, a huge thing. You are sharing your dreams,” Burnell says.

Both women believe that their differences deepened their friendship. “In my opinion, coming from different parts of the world drew us closer since we each had an opinion or view that was different. But when we talked, we each realized how valuable the other person's opinion was,” Ajinjeru says.

Sarah Burnell ’14

Post-Grinnell

After graduation, there’s always a fear of losing touch with your college friends. But with a friendship forged in competition, it’s going to take a lot more than distance to separate these two.

Burnell is staying in Grinnell for now. She works for the College as the coordinator of commencement and conferences.

Ajinjeru is entering a joint Ph.D. program in energy science and engineering at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. She plans to take her knowledge and experience back to Uganda, where she will focus on sustainable energy and potentially setting up extracurricular programs that encourage creativity and innovation among students.

Christine Ajinjeru ’14 is a chemistry major from Kampala, Uganda.
Sarah Burnell ’14 is an anthropology major from Grinnell, Iowa.

 

 

 

Summer Research in Burling

Summer in Grinnell may seem quiet. But four Mentored Advanced Project (MAP) students who are working with Sarah Purcell ’92, professor of history, find it the best time to focus on in-depth research.

The students are working on independent projects related to deaths in the U.S. Civil War and to their commemoration:

  • Elizabeth Sawka ’15, history — Civil War military chaplains' sermons;
  • Irene Bruce ’15, history and anthropology — African American mortality in Louisiana in 1860 and 1870;
  • Joseph Kathan ’15, history and gender, women, and sexuality studies — how Clara Barton was able to subvert the gender norms of the time and become a successful nurse and humanitarian during and after the Civil;
  • Peter Bautz ’15, history and political science — U.S. Civil War veterans' reunions and how they shaped views about the meaning of death in the Civil War

While researching on their own, the group of students has met frequently with Purcell in Burling Library throughout the summer to share their progress and to discuss historical texts and sources.

Purcell says that she spends a lot of time with her students, as Burling is a comfortable place to work and to learn and that the library provides an excellent scholarly atmosphere. With so many research tools close at hand — books, scholarly databases, microfilmed census records, and rare primary source material in Grinnell’s Special Collections and Archives — Purcell and her summer students have called upon the library faculty and staff for help. 

Burling Computing Lab, pictured here, is a great place for Purcell to demonstrate research techniques to her students. And even though historians often work on solitary projects, these researchers have all gotten to be part of a community of students, faculty, and staff in Burling this summer.

Working Within the System

Critical thought and passion — that’s the combination that fills Graciela Guzmán ’11 with Grinnellian pride. As an enrollment specialist at a community health center on the northwest side of Chicago, Graciela enrolls people in healthcare plans and educates them about the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

She started sharing her frustrations and her triumphs on her blog. It takes the form of visceral posts that demonstrate a depth of emotion you might not expect from a seemingly dry government procedure. Graciela says in a post from Jan. 17, “I write because really similarly to Harry Potter’s pensieve, sometimes you need somewhere to temporarily place a memory so you do not feel its weight but can still remember its immediacy and rawness.”

The enrollment form has questions about addiction, rehab, and domestic abuse, and so many of the enrollees have not had health insurance that it effectively compels them to tell their life stories. In Graciela’s experience, the reason her team is so successful is because its members communicate emotionally with their clients; they don’t compartmentalize. With a supply kit consisting of tissues, coffee, crayons, and coloring books, Graciela and her team are always aware of the human side of the Affordable Care Act.

The Chicago community Graciela works in has been historically uninsured. Roughly half of her clients are immigrants, and her office operates in English, Spanish, and Polish. Many of the people Graciela helped enroll didn’t have an email address before this process. Some had no reliable way for her to get in touch with them. This led her to do everything in her power to complete enrollments in one sitting and to begin believing in the law of emotional physics, which states that if Graciela’s team thinks about someone hard enough, “that’s the day they walk in to seek our aid. We bump into them on the streets, on the train, in the halls of our office, but somehow, the universe lines up.”

The healthcare enrollment website famously malfunctioned for its first month, but some functions — such as the enrollment process for immigrants — are still experiencing major issues. These persistent issues led to Graciela’s creation of a flowchart that takes into account the issues present in the marketplace process and allows other navigators to work within the imperfect enrollment system. “The reality of my community didn’t fit the ideal implementation of the policy,” says Graciela. Other organizations have adopted this chart and taken tips from her blog.

After the flurry of enrollments prior to the deadline, Graciela is turning her attention to post-enrollment issues. “There are days I can’t sleep, thinking about what post-enrollment life is like,” she says.

Graciela and her four teammates have touched 11,000 people through enrollment and education efforts so far. But enrollment is just the beginning. In some cases, health insurance doesn’t change a person’s circumstances as much as some would hope, and there’s still a lot of work to do, but Graciela takes it all in stride.  “What we have been doing until now has been the hard part. We’re about to get to the fun part,” she says.

Applying Anthropology in the Community

Students in professor J. Montgomery Roper’s Practicing Anthropology class took their studies to the community in the fall semester, performing studies on behalf of local organizations. They used surveys, interviews with local experts, focus groups, archival research, and hours of observation to help suggest improvements at service organizations, for example.

"The course is about learning by doing,” Roper said. “In particular, the students are learning about anthropological methods, policy-making at the community level, and the Grinnell community.”

“My belief is that knowledge builds greater roots when instilled through practice, particularly when the practice involves addressing real-world problems in our own community,” he added.

 One of the six student groups in the class looked into how a local food pantry could increase the frequency of donations.

The Mid-Iowa Community Action (MICA) food pantry in Grinnell has a problem. While the need for food remains fairly consistent throughout the year, donations fluctuate a lot.

Grinnell students Sara Hannemann ’14, Eva Metz ’14, and Gina Falada ’16 conducted in-person interviews with staff, volunteers, and local experts and surveyed community members to determine why giving varied, and to look for steps MICA could take to make donations more consistent.

They found that most community members donate food rather than money, but some don’t consider the needs of the food pantry. The students suggested that the pantry get the word out about its specific needs using social media, while radio and newspaper ads, and church-bulletin items. By increasing its profile, communicating its needs, and informing the public, MICA could improve its standing supply of food and lessen the need for emergency food drives, the students found.

Rachel Porath, the Poweshiek County Family Development Director for MICA, worked with Hannemann, Metz, and Falada in the early stages of the project. “It was a pleasure working with the students,” she said. “I will absolutely use some of their ideas moving forward.”

 Porath suggested community members the students could interview, and provided the students with information detailing the food pantry’s donations. She hopes the suggested changes will increase donations both in Grinnell and at other MICA food pantries in the state.

Other students in the class looked at issues such as assessing the need to enhance teen and tween programming at the local library, or to back a supported employment program for those with intellectual disabilities in Grinnell.

In addition to poster presentations, each group sent formal reports of their research findings to their community organization.

The Stories We Tell

Days after returning from his study abroad semester in Sri Lanka, Dylan Fisher ’14 began his summer anthropology mentored advanced project (MAP) in Grinnell. Fisher worked with Rachel Van Court ’15 under the mentorship of Professor Kathy Kamp, interviewing families who have farmed in the Grinnell area for generations. Fisher reflects on his experience.

The Stories We Tell

Early this past June, I departed London Heathrow Airport en route from Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka. As the plane launched itself up into the air, I turned away from the small window on my left, and looked about the economy class cabin. People around me read magazines and watched movies from small screens wedged into headrests. To my right a family from the London suburbs asked, "Where is your final destination?" In a blend of excitement and fear (for often the one accompanies the other), I too asked myself, "Where is my final destination?" I still wonder.

Two days later, I found myself back in Grinnell, unpacking bags, heavy from months of travel, pinning kitschy artwork on my bedroom walls. I moved slowly from sticky summer heat to the cool air of Goodnow Hall, my recent study abroad experiences trapped beneath layers of sweat. Those first weeks back were difficult; I felt incapable of carrying my story back with me to Grinnell. I was a new person in a place that felt so very old.

I was here for a summer MAP, Reflections on the Past: Land, Memory, and Meaning on the Iowan Farm, in the anthropology department. During this project, I, along with Rachel Van Court '15 (under the mentorship of Professor Kamp), talked with families that have farmed in the Grinnell area for multiple generations. The agricultural practices of these farmers range from conventional and industrialized methods to alternative and organic forms. During these interviews we asked questions about the experience of growing up and living on the farm, memories of the past.

Through these memories, every farmer with whom we spoke (both those practicing industrialized and alternative forms of agriculture) expressed a deep appreciation and stewardship for the land. Often childhood experiences with both family and community on the farm fostered this relationship to the earth. Despite claims from popular (but misleading) environmentalist and agrarian mythology about farming, this love of the earth is not directly connected to the way in which one farms.

Towards the end of each interview I asked, "What was your favorite place on the farm growing up?" The answers to this question were my favorite part of nearly every interview. Farmers responded, retelling stories from their youth, pausing to recall those tiny details of the nearby farms on which they grew up, the farms on which they still live. They mentioned the tractors they once owned, the names of friendly neighbors and brawny horses. They repeated phrases like, "When I was just a kid on the farm..." and "Back then, I remember..." They articulated all those memories that I could not. And for that I was jealous. But I was also captured by the vividness with which they remembered and by the emotional potency of their stories. For moments, as they spoke, they recreated the personal experiences of their past. Memories existed, shared, alive in the space between us, over tabletops, through densely planted corn.

Our strongest memories don't just slip away. They live within us and between us. There is so much value in holding onto to them, and, at times, allowing them into the world, allowing these narratives of the past to be experienced in the present. They speak to the overwhelming greatness of the natural world. Of love and protection. Of hope and fear. Of journey to that final destination. In all their complexity and infinite variability they are human stories. They let us feel and know and believe.

I will remember the stories of these farmers, just as I will remember Sri Lanka. I will remember the sadness of selling the family farm, the childhood thrill of catching rabbits in the snow. I will remember walking along a rocky Sri Lankan shoreline and the feeling of reckless anticipation as the sun began to rise above the ocean.

Toby Austin at Crow Canyon, Cortez, Colorado

Toby Austin '14

In 2007, while looking for a way to fill the summer, Toby Austin ’14, an anthropology major from Cedarburg, Wis., found Crow Canyon’s website and was attracted by what Crow Canyon had to offer — and he liked the idea of traveling to a different area of the country. He approached Crow Canyon's High School Field School as a way “to see what archaeology really was.” 

“I really enjoyed High School Field School and the area. It was nice to have the mix of classroom and experiential activities,” he said. “It helped me decide that archaeology was what I really wanted to do.” 

Not only did Austin end up enjoying High School Field School, he was impressed by Crow Canyon’s mission — the research as well as the education element. “I liked that sharing of knowledge,” he noted. “Lots of places do research; not many have that education component. That’s really special and really valuable in where I see my career going. I want to be doing something that engages the public.”

As a lab intern this year, Austin processed and analyzed a variety of artifacts, worked on flotation analysis (retrieving organic and inorganic materials from sediment samples using a water-separation technique), and instructed program participants in the lab.

He also helped out the PBS archaeology reality show, Time Team America, by researching different types of artifacts, such as projectile points and scrapers, that are present in Paleoindian archaeological assemblages. In 2014, Time Team America will air an episode filmed at Crow Canyon and the Dillard site. Austin said, as an intern, he had many opportunities to do more-detailed work than he did in High School Field School, and he was often able to work independently. And he noted that, with three years of college under his belt, he was able to build on what he had learned in school.

Austin’s internship lasted more than two months. During that time, he also tuned in to something that might have escaped a high school student: the reach of Crow Canyon’s influence. “Crow Canyon isn’t just about a single group,” he said. “Researchers come here from all over. They can do their work somewhere else, but they come here. That’s awesome.”

Austin began his senior year at Grinnell this fall. He is considering taking his education to a higher level in the future, but first he would like to join the workforce for a while, perhaps as an employee of the National Park Service. We know that any employer would be lucky to have him!