As lunch time hits, Grinnellians from all over campus flock to the dining hall to feast and fuel up for the rigor that is sure to come in their afternoon classes. As students and faculty peruse the plethora of options, they might begin to wonder how far the ingredients for these dishes have traveled to make it to their plates. But, maybe it’s only as far as a few blocks across campus.
In a society where fewer and fewer people know where their food comes from and the impact their meals have on the environment, it has become increasingly important to establish locally grown sources of food.
The Grinnell College Garden promotes this concept and has an even bigger influence than what you would expect. Harvesting roughly 1,100 pounds of produce each of the last two years and about 30 different types of crops this past season, the garden has an impact that can be felt across the community.
“The garden works as a model for how a small plot of land can produce a much larger yield than one might think, encouraging students and community members to consider our position in the global food system and perhaps try to consume and produce their food more locally,” says Francess Dunbar ’20, a student gardener.
Student and community volunteers can learn basic gardening techniques and the growing requirements for vegetables. As the garden is committed to not using synthetic herbicides, they learn organic farming methods as well. By getting up close to crops, Grinnellians develop an understanding and an appreciation for the food they consume and the effort it takes to yield it. Garden employee Rachel Snodgrass ’21 says “we hope that these skills will be tools for students to grow their own food later in life — and that the knowledge they gain about eating locally will inspire them to consider the footprint of their dietary choices.”
As the College continues to focus on creating a more sustainable environment, the initiatives of the garden stay true to that mission.
But it’s not just what we are eating. It’s the way crops are grown. Along with the more typical plants like potatoes, corn, and tomatoes, the garden has taken on a more unique crop.
Last year, the Center for Prairie Studies, which manages the garden, invited Lee DeHaan of The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, to speak about kernza. Kernza is a perennial relative of wheat, developed with the idea of reducing soil erosion and the amount of fossil fuels used in plowing and planting. Jon Andelson, professor of anthropology and supervisor of the garden, saw the innovativeness and asked for some seed. Shortly after, garden staff planted a small demonstration to promote the awareness of perennial grains instead of the standardized annual crops, which if widely adopted would reduce the amount of topsoil lost by yearly replanting and making agriculture more sustainable.
Access to Good Food and a Comfortable Space
The garden has come to be known as a place of tranquility and a sort of escape for students. In such an academically rigorous environment, it’s important to have a place to unwind and relax. “…it is extremely fulfilling to take a break from academic work and be able to go to hang outside at the garden, harvest produce, take care of the crops, and watch things grow,” says Carmen Ribadeneira ’20.
By having a focus on accessibility, the garden has made structural decisions so visitors can enjoy the garden with ease. With raised beds and ADA-compliant hard surface paths, Grinnellians and community members alike can enjoy working and relaxing together.
After harvest, the crops are dispersed to organizations the staff feel have the most pressing need or will do the most good. These include groups such as the Mid-Iowa Community Alliance (MICA), local food pantry and daycare center, or the Marketplace Dining Hall. Students and faculty working in the garden have come to understand the benefits of the campus and community having access to good, clean, locally grown food and how to expand and continue to grow in years to come.