The Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project: A Gillings Innovative Laboratory


EXCITING SERVICE-LEARNING VENTURES AT CAROLINA CAMPUS COMMUNITY GARDEN AND FARMER FOODSHARE FOR NUTR 245 STUDENTS

This spring, Nutrition 245 students Carolyn Tidwell and Katie Fesler have been getting involved in local food endeavors at their community placements. Currently, Tidwell volunteers at Carolina Campus Community Garden (CCCG) while Fesler volunteers at Farmer Foodshare. Each week, Tidwell, Fesler and their classmates reflect on their service and progress made at their community partners.

Tidwell stated, “Working with the Garden over the past couple of weeks has been wonderful. The more time I spend there, the more I love the distributions and gardening in general.” CCCG welcomes all UNC staff, faculty, students and community members to grow vegetable and fruit for UNC’s lower wage workers.

While Tidwell observes that the food distributions at the garden are a simple process and do not take long, she appreciates the opportunity it gives her to interact with the garden volunteers and UNC workers.

A volunteer at one distribution described how the workers will all bring food to meals and share amongst themselves, stated Tidwell. It appears to her that there is no sense of possession but instead a real sense of community that the CCCG has brought together.

“By the community garden providing this service to the UNC workers, it is sharing the abundance of the land and allowing them to lead a more healthy lifestyle through nutritious food products,” noted Tidwell.

Tidwell’s community placement at the CCCG has led to her examine the current food system more closely. She states she will continue ask questions focusing on food disparities while working at the Garden.

According to Fesler, she got right back into the groove of things at Farmer Foodshare after her weeklong spring break. Last week, Fesler met with her advisor and community placement group. They discussed the findings of their research focusing on price variation for products amongst different vendors including farmers’ markets and grocery stores.

Currently Fesler works on a project to help determine and expand “the ideal buyer” for the Pennies on the Pound (POP) Food Markets. This program is a pilot social enterprise developed by Farmer Foodshare. According to the nonprofit, it is designed to connect farmers with limited resources who have discounted excess food for sale with low wealth customer and agencies that increase community food security.

“I’m not entirely sure what the project is going to look like, but I’m taking it step by step and seeing where it leads me. It’s exciting to be a part of a venture that’s just getting off the ground,” stated Fesler.

Fesler and Tidwell, along with the rest of the Nutrition 245 class, will be volunteering at their community placements for the remaining five weeks of the semester – meaning much time left for even more service-learning opportunities. 




Service-Learning Students Help With Cooking Demonstration at IFFS Mobile Market

Saturday February 18th, Nutrition 245 student Christine Sun attended her first Inter-Faith Food Shuttle (IFFS) Mobile Market at the West Durham Baptist Church. Along with her service-learning group, Sun assisted in providing a healthy cooking demonstration on Confetti Kale.

“There was a lot of positive feedback from the crowd and they seemed to really enjoy the kale,” noted Sun, who will be volunteering with IFFS throughout the semester.

According to Sun, she was nervous about whether or not people would be interested in the cooking demonstration because it wasn’t many people’s main reason for coming to the Mobile Market. These Mobile Markets provide low-income communities with fresh produce, free of charge, once a month.

“However, many people seemed really interested and engaged in our demonstration.  After our demonstration, people came up to thank us and say how they really appreciated our presentation,” stated Sun.

In addition to the live cooking demonstration, a fun “monthly food challenge” was given to the crowd – to try to make a meal with three different colored fruits and vegetables.

Sun stated, “I’m interested to see if people follow through and share what they cooked at the next Mobile Market.  I really enjoyed my time at the Mobile Market, and I’m excited to start working on ideas for the next one!”



Students Share Their Initial Thoughts on Their Service-learning Community Placements

Students in Nutrition 245 (Sustainable, Local Food Systems) have begun the service-learning component of this UNC course by volunteering at their community placements. The service-learning course will allow students to examine the intersection of local foods and public health in addition to being able to make real-world contributions and a difference in their communities.

Each week, we’ll be highlighting a few of the 26 students’ reflections on their community placements. The reflections of Alexander Denunzio, Cayce Watts, Dhruv Desai, Kathryn Webb and Taylor Harper are being featured this week. They reflected on their first impressions about the organizations and the projects they will be working on over the next few months. This week’s community placements include the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, Farmer Foodshare and Carolina Campus Community Garden.

Denunzio, Desai, and their team will be assisting Market Manager Sarah Blacklin and the Carrboro Farmers’ Market to complete an in-depth SEED survey amongst the consumers and farmers attending the market as well as the local community surrounding the Farmers’ Market. Denunzio and Desai will be developing, collecting and evaluating customer data and trends at the Farmers’ Market through the SEED survey.

Amongst the survey’s specific tasks such as being a pollster and forager, Denunzio and Desai will be participating in counting or “clicking” consumers. This is because the entrances to Carrboro Farmers’ Market are not well defined, according to Denunzio.

Alex Denunzio counts customers at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market

Denunzio stated, “I can honestly say it is not what I expected – but in a good way.”

According to Denunzio, he is looking forward to working on the SEED survey because the research and the data they collect through the Carrboro Farmers’ Market can be distributed on a regional and national level to other farmers’ markets to improve efficiency and productivity.

The students are eager to engage in service-learning for many reasons – one being they know they can make a difference in their community. For instance, the SEED survey results will possibly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of farmers’ markets throughout the country and will cause people to be more concerned with locally grown food, stated Denunzio.

Desai is excited to be a part of this initiative because it will ultimately help to make a better Farmers’ Market, an organization that already does so much for the community, including doing outreach to promote local, sustainable foods from the Piedmont region. He asserts that, “by having a better Farmers’ Market, we can ensure that even more people from diverse economic backgrounds in the community have the opportunity to access healthy, nutritious, fresh and local foods grown and made by folks right here in North Carolina.”

Kevin Chung perches on a chair to get a good view as a counter for the SEED survey at the Farmers’ Market.

Cayce Webb will be volunteering at the Carolina Campus Community Garden. Webb stated, “It was fun meeting new people who were volunteering from other classes and also learning about the planting system as the garden and how the compost piles worked.  Everyone worked together very efficiently and was quick to offer help to others.”

Webb plans to continue volunteering with the garden, to possibly try to attend a veggie distribution to lower income UNC employees and to start more serious research on recipes and existing garden cooking demonstrations.

This semester, Kathryn Watts and Taylor Harper will be assisting with Farmer Foodshare’s Donation Stations at the Carrboro and Chapel Hill Farmers’ Markets. Farmer Foodshare is a nonprofit organization that raises funds and donations of fresh food for those at risk for hunger or malnutrition, while building healthy community food systems and enhancing community economic development.

Watts stated, “I was surprised to see things like beauty products and soap being sold there. The Chapel Hill market is smaller than the Carrboro market, and the winter market is especially limited. I’m interested to see how moving into the spring and summer seasons will affect turn out at the markets and donations being made to Farmer Foodshare.”

Students like Harper are already thinking of ways to help improve their community placements. “To help increase exposure, it would be ideal to have some sort of information pamphlet that the customers could peruse while shopping, which would allow them to develop a better understanding of Farmer Foodshare without interrupting their shopping experience.  I feel this would make customers more willing to donate to our cause if they understand what we are there for and would allow us to provide more food to the Interfaith Food Council,” Harper stated.

Be sure to keep reading this blog to learn more about the students’ experiences and involvement in the community throughout the spring semester.



Service-learning Students Are to Assist Local Non-profits This Spring Semester

This spring semester, Dr. Alice Ammerman, director of the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (HPDP), and Dr. Molly De Marco, research fellow at HPDP, are offering a course entitled Sustainable, Local Food Systems – Intersection of local foods and public health(Nutrition 245) for the first time at UNC-CH. Sustainable, Local Food Systems, an APPLES service-learning course, examines the health, economic and environmental impacts of our current food system with a focus on current efforts to build a more local, equitable and sustainable food system.

This course is a natural progression of the momentum related to the research attributed to the Gillings Sustainable Agriculture (GIL) grant and other community-based participatory research projects conducted through HPDP. During the past three years, in particular, many students have come to UNC with a passion for local food systems. Dr. Ammerman and Dr. De Marco, along with Robin Crowder, the project director for the GIL, developed this course to meet the burgeoning demand from students to get directly involved with community organizations working on sustainable agriculture projects. There is a specific enthusiasm related to addressing food access and food justice issues and students are looking to make real-world contributions and a difference in their communities. This new class will help them do just that.

Throughout the semester, students will assist community partners in their work to increase economic opportunities for small and mid-sized farmers and food entrepreneurs and to increase access to healthy food among lower income populations. The community partners include the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, Carolina Campus Community Garden, Farmer Foodshare, Inter-Faith Food Shuttle and Weaver Street Market.

Each week, the students will blog about their service-learning experiences and relate them back to the course’s readings and lecture. A few students’ reflections will be featured on this Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project blog from time to time.

Along with teaching assistant Linden Elder and support from CDC Prevention Specialist on assignment to HPDP, Melissa Cunningham, Dr. Ammerman and Dr. De Marco will cover local food systems topics ranging from the environment to food safety. Guest lecturers, including Dr. Marcie Ferris, UNC American Studies Professor, and Claire Lorch, Carolina Campus Community Garden Manager, are to speak during the weekly class meetings. Some speakers will present in out-of-the-classroom locations, such as the Piedmont Food and Agricultural Processing Center. Those guest lecturers whose commutes are too far away to make it to the UNC Gillings School of Public Health will present via Skype, such as Dr. Christopher Heaney, of Johns Hopkins University.

Students will meet the expectation of service for an APPLES course of a minimum of 30 hours during the semester. Throughout the semester, students will complete an estimated 3-5 hours a week of service hours with their community partner.



Harvest of Hope
The first garden workday for the Harvest of Hope project

The first garden workday for the Harvest of Hope project

One of my favorite things about research is that it allows you to be part of a world that’s quite different than your own. Like Coley Springs Missionary Baptist Church in Warrenton, North Carolina, where Dr. Molly De Marco, a researcher at the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, and a team of UNC researchers are conducting research about how gardening can influence food knowledge, health and diet. In collaboration with Rev. William Kearney, who leads The Coley Springs Baptist Church, and fifty parish members, the project will entail a 10-month gardening program. The group will build a garden on their church land and will take part in cooking classes using their garden harvests. With many of the older members already knowledgeable about growing food, gardening skills will be taught from within their community, especially to the less experienced youth.

The name of the project is “Harvest of Hope” and it’s another project that I’m happy to be a part of. Last week we headed out to Warrenton to collect data before the parish broke ground to start the garden. As we pulled up to the church, Reverend Kearney gave us a warm welcome. In casual shorts and a baseball cap, he exuded energy and friendliness. He showed us around the sunny church, cheerfully decorated with flowers throughout and lined with photographs of their church members. Outside, the land was beautiful, with old oak trees towering amidst deep green fields. It was completely quiet, and as I walked up the hill to where the garden would be, the pastoral land surrounded me completely. The church owns fifty stunning acres of this land and Rev. Kearney told us how eager the parish was to start a garden on a part of it, “We’ve been talking about doing something with it for a long time, so everyone is very excited.”

Soon, the UNC Health on Wheels van showed up and started getting ready to take people’s weight, height and blood pressure. A traveling van that did such a thing? I never knew it existed! I had to take a peek inside to satiate my curiosity. One of the registered nurses with the van told me that they did this kind of thing all of the time, “It’s great…we get to go directly to the communities.”

The UNC Health on Wheels van!

The UNC Health on Wheels van!

Members of the parish started trickling into the church to fill out surveys on food knowledge and diet. Dr. DeMarco has worked with this community before, and as she checked people in, greeting them with hugs and updates on how she was, it was clear that she wasn’t a researcher in their eyes, but a friend who was part of the community. As more people came, the room filled up with people bent over their surveys, answering questions. A group of teenage boys shouted out identifications of vegetables, “Onion?” “No, I know, radish!” I worked with a man helping him answer questions about his diet. Outside, people lined up for the health van. Members of the parish will do all of this again in 10 months, and in this way we hope to explore if gardening has had an impact on their food knowledge, health and diet.

As I left the survey room to take a quick break, I paused outside of the church sanctuary to listen to the men’s evening choir practice. Their joyful voices filled the empty space, and some of them waved at me when they saw me watching. I mimicked applause and went back downstairs.

When the surveys finished up and we got ready to leave, I chatted with Rev. Kearney about the direction he is taking his church in. “People usually think of church happening on just one day, inside here. But we’re trying to do different things, go outside, have afterschool activities for kids like weightlifting, so it becomes a real community.” We look forward to the garden helping to build this community, and I hope I get a chance to see its bountiful harvest and the people who have grown it sometime soon.