Students Learn About Food From the Roots Up

Photo: Melissa Smith, a senior conservation and resource studies major and one of the original founders of the Victory Garden, works in the garden as part of a project for ESPM 117. The garden is one of several on campus that have been constructed and maintained without university involvement.
Skyler Reid/Staff
Melissa Smith, a senior conservation and resource studies major and one of the original founders of the Victory Garden, works in the garden as part of a project for ESPM 117. The garden is one of several on campus that have been constructed and maintained without university involvement.

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For some, to be connected to the food on our plates means buying produce at a farmer's market. But for others, eating self-grown food is not a stretch.

Mickey Davis, a second year nutritional sciences major at UC Berkeley, spent last summer waking up at 4:30 a.m. every morning to milk the cows--that is, before she started planting the seeds, taking care of the cabbages or harvesting the tomatoes at Hill and Hollow Farm in Edmonton, Kentucky.

"I went to find that real connection of where my food comes from," Davis said. "There's definitely a huge disconnect in our society, and, you know, I went as a person who's interested in food. I think it's something that everybody should do."

Deprived of the high-speed Internet she is used to and living in a house with limited electricity, Davis worked until noon, only to pickup work again at 4 p.m. and continue until dark. That is, if all the sheep had not leapt over the often dysfunctional electrical fences.

"It's a really easy thing to say that milk comes from cow," Davis said. "But when you're really doing the whole process, it's quite another thing."

When UC Berkeley journalism professor Michael Pollan speaks at Zellerbach Hall Wednesday about his book "The Omnivore's Dilemma," some students will understand his message from personal experience.

Bringing her new awareness and knowledge about food back to Berkeley, Davis said she is passionate about getting more people interested in learning about the food they eat.

She is currently working with The Local--a farmer's market booth on Sproul Plaza every Monday--and the Society for Agriculture and Food Ecology, a student group that focuses on bringing local food awareness to campus. The group is currently hosting a speaker's series on "The Omnivore's Dilemma."

"There's a lot of ignorance involved in the food industry," Davis said. "We want to spread the word of what consumers can do to be more connected to their food and giving them a new perspective of what all that means."

Nathan McClintock, a graduate student in geography, said he is not surprised by the increasing interest urban dwellers have in farming, especially during a tough economic period.

He cited instances during The Great Depression, World War I and World War II when the U.S. government adopted policies that encouraged urban spaces to be used as gardens.

"During the economic recession of the 1970s, 'inflation' gardens flourished in America's inner cities with a boost from the back-to-the-land ideals of the environmental movement and the (U.S. Department of Agriculture's) $1.5 million Urban Gardening Program," McClintock wrote in a forthcoming journal article. "This same notion of local food production as a safety net for city dwellers drives many of today's initiatives."

Pollan's book does not offer a simple solution, but rather an ideal that is very hard to live up to, said Jay Wallace, chair of the philosophy department who is teaching one of the freshman seminars on the book.

"When you make decisions about what you eat, you should be able to make them in full awareness of where your food comes from and what was involved in producing it," Wallace said. "But it's kind of hard when you have midterm exams to prepare for."

Despite an increasing awareness for locally grown food, the Victory Garden, an on-campus garden located near Memorial Glade, will be removed once the fall semester is over.

The garden was originally designed as a project for Earthweek in April and was extended for use as a class laboratory for the fall semester, said Christine Shaff, communications manager for facilities services.

But there is a possibility for a permanent Victory Garden located off campus, according to Shaff.

"The campus landscape architect identified possible locations for a longer-term, more permanent garden that's in the appropriate place, that has all the support system that a garden would need," Shaff said.

In addition to the Victory Garden, a group of environmental science, policy and management students recently started a "guerrilla garden" outside Mulford Hall.

"What we want to do with this garden is an opportunity for students to have a hands-on experience on campus as to how to grow food," said Miguel Altieri, a professor in the environmental science, policy and management department. "We also want to, at some point, think about organizing a wider event where we feature this plot and invite the whole campus to look at it."


Contact Paul Edison at [email protected]

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