Popcorn from the EMU Sustainable Food Initiative (SFI) gardens.

With minimal prior gardening experience, I applied to work in EMU’s Sustainable Food Initiative (SFI) gardens during summer 2019. I’d taken care of (and occasionally killed) enough houseplants to think I was capable of such a job. About midway through my first day, my body gave up on me, and I ended up leaving early.

Needless to say, it was a bit more physically demanding than I was expecting. Don’t get me wrong, the work isn’t terribly hard. I just rarely did outdoor work in my normal day-to-day life.

My body wasn’t prepared for wheeling piles of compost around and digging up monstrous weeds. I was, however, great at hoping it would rain so that we had to work inside.

Over the course of that summer, my body changed, and my knowledge and appreciation for food sustainability grew greatly. I spent the fall digging sweet potatoes, picking green beans and cherry tomatoes, and harvesting winter squash. I’ve been grateful It made me grateful for our collective and ongoing need for nature ‒ physically and spiritually.

SFI garden coordinator and PXD student Jessica Chisolm with PA Dutch crookneck squash.

Currently, I’m working as SFI’s garden coordinator. Part of SFI’s mission is to “advocate for and live into a new food system that is more sustainable.” In order to fulfill this mission statement, we work towards reducing food waste and food insecurity on EMU’s campus. This year, SFI’s leadership worked towards acquiring a new space that would be open 24/7 to keep donated non-perishables and packaged, frozen cafeteria leftover meals. Previously, the goods were only available from 12 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays. We wanted more accessibility; that’s where most of my energy went while snow was covering the garden.

After exploring a couple of options, staff from Facilities Management were able to find and secure the perfect room for us: Room 100 of the Amon Heatwole House. After moving in, Room 100 opened as SFI’s free food room in late January.

Room 100 is always unlocked and is accessible through its own outside door. It’s closed off from the rest of the building for confidentiality. Inside, there are two freezers stocked with frozen cafeteria meals packaged by student volunteers, without whom the initiative wouldn’t be possible. The room also has tables stocked with non-perishable food items donated by EMU community members. This project is one way SFI is able to work towards reducing food waste and food insecurity at the same time, especially while we wait for spring gardening season to begin.

Jessica Chisolm is a student in the Peacebuilding and Development (PXD) program as well as co-editor of the Weather Vane and garden coordinator for EMU’s Sustainable Food Initiative (SFI).