By Elisa Espinoza
The Office of Student Life and Development and the Orca Food Pantry’s team have organized a new garden project funded by The Associated Students of Whatcom Community College student government.
The project consists of weekly trips to the Cordata Neighborhood Garden, where students can learn how to grow food and help provide for the Orca Food Pantry. Workshops are also available, for students to learn more about gardening, sustainability, food security and other important topics.
Catherine Chambers is the coordinator for the Feeding Whatcom program and works for the AmeriCorps organization. Her right hand, Julie Connell is the Vice President for Campus Advocacy. Both play major roles in this project, as well as the Orca Food Pantry.
While leading the Orca Food Pantry, the team realized the needs in the community.
“We found that about 50 percent of the population are food-insecure and within that, 60 percent are house-insecure as well,” said Connell.
“The more we grow it, the more we find there’s more and more need,” said Connell about the pantry. “There are people that depend on us having the pantry full, and having options available for them, and we just haven’t been able to keep up with that need,” she added.
The bins set up around campus are there to collect food for the pantry, but they do not provide a steady supply large enough for the community’s needs. The team also had to rely on fundraisers.
Chambers picks up weekly donations from Avenue Bread which are taken to the Intercultural Center, Writing Center and Testing Center. Every other week she picks up donated food from the Community Food Co-op to supply the pantry.
“We want to be careful that we are not taking food from the existing pantries and food banks,” said Chambers. “We are trying to establish new sources of donations.”
Connell also mentioned the foods in the pantry aren’t very nutritious, since they mostly receive things like instant soups, or mac and cheese.
“These things will fill people’s bellies but the nutritional values are seriously lacking,” she said.
The team developed the idea of the garden project as they thought about how to bring more food and nutritional value into the pantry.
“If we can show people how easy it is to grow food from a seed, we would be empowering them,” Connell said. It will also “give people the opportunity to have nutritionally dense and fresh food, and also show them how easy it is to make this on their own.”
The garden is located at the east end of the Cordata Parkway, about a mile from the college. Right now, the project is focusing on the planting and the caring of plants.
Brandon Jardin is a student at Whatcom who is interested in homeopathy and whose intended major is naturopathic medicine.
Jardin said he is very excited about the new project, because he grew up gardening with his mother and was also a Boy Scout.
“I thought this was a great opportunity to work directly with my friends and peers, and show them something that I know from experience,” he said.
“When I found that the reason was for the Orca Pantry and to provide food for people, that gave me even more of a reason to say ‘yes, I really want to do this,’” Jardin added.
Jardin explained that he and other students have been learning how the soil works, and have been participating in planting and watering activities.
“There is definitely teamwork [and] a lot of teaching from one another,” said Jardin, describing the collaborative dynamic that occurs in the garden as students and leaders work together.
“I really enjoy it, from a personal perspective, because it’s very alleviating. It’s relaxing and very therapeutic,” he said.
Jardin said he plans to keep participating in the project and would like to see more people joining.
“I would definitely encourage students who have interest in gardening, have interest in plants and natural sciences, and anybody who needs some form of therapeutic alleviation,” he said.
Currently, the harvesting and logistics of distribution of the foods is still being arranged.
“There are some foods that will be fairly perishable and we are trying to make sure we include foods that will last a little while, like squash,” said Chambers. “We don’t have any refrigeration at this point so we have to be creative about how we are going to distribute.”
Besides helping to fill out the pantry, the garden is also part of a programming project that will complement the students’ learning experiences.
“We’ve invited classes to participate in the garden, and to hold their class there,” Chambers said.
Arrangements can be made to facilitate access to other groups interesting in working on the garden, under the supervision of one of the leads through the Office of Student Life and Development.
The project team is also planning on collaborating with the engineering club, to build new garden beds at the garden.
“The garden project is such an amazing project and so well-loved and wanted here, not only by the students, but by the instructors to use as part of their curriculum,” she said.
Other essential supplements to the project are the weekly workshops which seek to expand the students’ knowledge. The programmed workshops are led by the team with members of the community.
Community building is an important piece of the garden project. Chamber said the team is planning on hosting a garden party towards the end of the quarter.
“Not everybody can come and go and get their degree and leave. Some people hang out a lot, and are looking for that community connection, and so this is just another way to add to that,” Connell said.
Whatcom is committed to sustainability and Connell believes that having a campus garden is in line with that belief.
The garden trips are every Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the weekly workshops are every Thursday 9 to 11 a.m.
Transportation is offered through the Office of Student Life and Development, for up to 12 people who sign up to also confirm their participation in the garden activities.
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