The Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project: A Gillings Innovative Laboratory


Gardening – Everyone’s Doing It
September 1, 2009, 9:56 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Ziya Gizlice's, The Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention's biostatistician, home garden

Ziya Gizlice's, The Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention's biostatistician, home garden

“People are planting gardens all over America. You can’t find seeds in garden centers, there’s such a run on gardening. I think that’s a very encouraging thing. I don’t think it is merely symbolic,” stated noted food writer and sustainable agriculture advocate Michael Pollan.

People around the nation have begun planting gardens in their backyards, schools, businesses and community spaces. As they get their hands in the soil, to drop in a few colorful seeds or delicately place a tender seedling into its fertile new home, people are becoming more connected to their food. In fact, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack confirmed that gardening is on the rise by declaring last week National Community Gardening Week.

The timing is perfect, as The Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project delves deeply into research connecting how we eat to our health and local economy.

The excitement around gardening is a big part in building the momentum for a more local food system. Many of the people involved in The Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project can be connected just as easily by their love of gardening as to their work within the grant. Dr. Alice Ammerman, Principal Investigator, is helping to create a garden for UNC employees near campus with another avid gardener and local food movement advocate, Claire Lorch. They hope that the garden will provide fresh, nutritious food and physical exercise to employees while providing an opportunity for students, staff and faculty to work with one another outside of an academic setting. Claire recently conducted a survey to measure interest for the garden among UNC employees: 96.9% of 1,259 respondents said they would be interested in establishing such a place.

Ziya Gizlice, a biostatistician who has analyzed data for one of the main aims of the project, started a garden at the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention where he works and where Dr. Ammerman is the director. Despite extremely poor soil conditions, he is not deterred. Ziya says he sees the garden as a place for his colleagues to use during their lunch break or after the workday. They can weed, plant, harvest or simply sit in the garden to relax.

I personally, have the pleasure of helping with a school garden in Durham, and work with children ages five to twelve, to integrate the school’s curriculum while we are working among the plants. It’s amazing to watch kids be inspired to create a story about the life of a tomato plant while fulfilling school requirements to practice writing skills!

The more I talk with people the more I hear about new gardens being started.  In fact, the Physical Activity & Nutrition Branch in the NC Division of Public Health and people from NC Cooperative Extension are finding themselves assisting huge numbers of folks thinking about putting in a garden. Click here to check out the just released:  Eat Smart, Move More North Carolina: Growing Communities through Gardens a colorful, planning and resource guide for anyone who is thinking about starting a community garden.

I feel as if the level of interest and involvement in the Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project is yet another way to measure the momentum towards change. When I first heard about the research and rushed to become involved, Robin Crowder, Project Manager, kindly let me know that I wasn’t the only one. She wrote, “Dr. Ammerman has been amazed by the community response to this research project, which she has never experienced on the same level.” Researchers in other academic fields, farmers, local business owners, students and community organizers alike have all become involved in various aspects of the project through sheer interest in connecting more with local food systems. The network of more than 50 collaborators on the project (including students) is still growing.  The new documentary studies class offered through Duke as part of this project is helping to cast the net even wider with more students registering for the class than originally anticipated.

Overall, I think that widespread interest in gardening and this project are equally encouraging – they both demonstrate people’s involvement in or at the very least, curiosity about alternatives to our current food system. I’m excited to see where this momentum will take us and hope that it will help influence policy change for the future.

So, keep in mind, if you are unable to find seedlings for your fall garden this season, take heart, you can view it as a positive sign of change in how we eat.

Some people's gardens include chickens!

Some people's gardens include chickens!

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