Push for university garden driven by food insecurity

Push for university garden driven by food insecurity

Allison Mueller

Colin Kohrs / Winonan

Many college students, Winona State University students included, are food insecure and do not know it, according to Winona State ecology and public administration student Alison Leigh.

“Food insecurity is not just about literally starving,” Leigh said. “It’s about having an inadequate food source.”

Food insecurity is just one of the issue that Leigh and several Winona State faculty members are attempting to address with the proposal of a garden for the Winona State campus.

The current space planned for the gardens is the land on west campus across the stream next to Cotter fields. This area is an estimated acre and a half.

According to Joan Francioni, a computer science professor and chair of Winona State’s Sustainability Committee, the garden will provide a new, health opportunity for students.

“The WSU Community Education Gardens project will help students see what is involved with ‘growing your own food.’ For some this will be interesting to know about even if they never have their own gardens in the future,” Francioni said. “But it will also give students the opportunity to learn how to do this on their own in the future – be it with their own individual gardens, or in support of a community’s larger garden.”

The students of Winona State come from many different backgrounds, financially, educationally and culturally and not everyone was necessarily taught what it means to sustain one’s body, Leigh said.

“If you have a Twinkie and a Mountain Dew for your food for the day, that’s food insecure,” Leigh said. “You may not technically be starving, but you are not able to provide for yourself healthy food.”

While one of the goals with this garden plan is to help with students who may be facing food insecurity, there are many more educational and functional opportunities with this garden proposal.

“The gardens would also provide opportunities for learning around many issues of sustainability: public policy/land use, ecology, biology and community health education,” Francioni said. “In addition, the physical and therapeutic benefits of working with our hands in the soil cannot be underestimated. Finally, we see the gardens as another opportunity for students to be involved in community service.”

This is not the first time a garden has been proposed. In the past, individuals and entire classes of students have tried to pitch the idea to the university, ultimately to no avail.

Leigh has since handed the project over to a team of faculty including Francioni, Sue Groth, Jeanne Franz, Kate Noelke and Kara Lindaman, and since then the project has made a couple of milestones.

On Sept. 14, Winona State’s Student Senate passed a resolution saying they were in full support of the project.

According to Francioni, “planning is being well-received” in the administrative sphere, and right now, “the Sustainability Committee has endorsed this project moving forward and expects that the new sustainability director will be able to oversee the garden project.”

And the point of the project is not just to plow up the earth and plant vegetables; it is to encourage civic and community engagement, create awareness around these issues about food and starting a dialogue within the Winona State and surrounding community.

For Leigh, working together on this project is imperative to its success.

“Food is not just a physical thing,” Leigh said. “It’s a mental thing. It’s a community thing.”

-By Colin Kohrs