Growing for Good
Growing up, Zoe Martin always had plenty of healthy food available. Her father, a Whole Foods employee, raised his family on natural and organic fare. But Martin knows that other people aren’t as fortunate. That’s why she is involved with a new project on campus that is designed to provide 1,000 bags of fresh produce to local residents this fall.
Martin, a junior anthropology major, is participating in the Community Garden project called SU Shares 1000. Every Monday, she can be seen filling bins full of the eggplants, peppers and potatoes that were harvested over the weekend by community garden volunteers. She loads them into her SUV and heads for the local Meals on Wheels office in Georgetown.
“I’ve grown up with the privilege of having nutritious food available, and I’d like to share that possibility with others,” Martin said.
Deanna Shanklin, the site leader for the Meals on Wheels Neighborhood Center on Eighth Street, is acutely aware that seniors are one of the groups most vulnerable to poor nutrition and hunger. The Meals on Wheels Association of America cites that nearly nine percent of senior Texans lack consistent access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food. To add insult to injury, the Hunger in America 2010: Central Texas Report found that 34 percent of food pantries and 58 percent of kitchens in Austin also were in need of more fruits and vegetables.
Shanklin said the Meals on Wheels center offers the fresh produce to the 40 or more clients who come there each day. “A lot of them are making salsa,” she said. “We also make salsa and serve it on the days we have enchiladas or tacos. They really seem to be enjoying it.” Currently, Southwestern is the only organization donating fresh vegetables to the center, Shanklin said.
Vanessa Toro, a junior biology and environmental studies major, came up with the idea to partner with Meals on Wheels. She also has established a partnership with the Head Start program in Georgetown. Toro hopes to hold a monthly cooking class for parents of the preschoolers, who qualify for the program based on income. According to the Sustainable Food Center, lack of knowledge about food and nutrition can exacerbate the problems faced by low-income families. “Getting the fresh produce is one thing, but knowing how to cook it and get kids to eat it is another.” Toro said.
Molly Jensen, assistant professor of religion, began serving as the faculty advisor to the to the SU Community Garden this year. She said she is continually inspired by the efforts of her students. “When I think of this group, I think of Margaret Mead’s quote: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has,’” Jensen said. “SU Shares 1000 can respond to the real and escalating need for food and nutrition among young children and senior members of our community.”
Jensen, Toro and Martin are inviting all members of the Southwestern community to turn out on Saturday mornings to help them dig, plant and harvest. To sign up to volunteer in the garden or more information, visit their blog at http://sucommunitygarden.blogspot.com/.
“I think we can harvest 1,000 bags,” Toro said. “It takes a collaborative effort. That’s the only way we can make it work − and that’s the point.”
− Shannon Hicks