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Voices of the Valley: Jenn Bell: A Growing Community

The Lafayette College Community Garden is my favorite place to be. But what makes it so special? The essence of community: I’m not just growing food for myself, but we’re all growing food for ourselves and our loved ones, together. Today, in our world of texting and take out, sometimes we forget what it is that makes us happy. When I take time to think about it, I realize that for me, it’s spending a morning in July at the community garden seeing a mother and child in their garden, laughing together.

What I like most about gardening is the connection I feel to the land as I plant, tend, and harvest.

The Lafayette College Community Garden & Student Farm is located three miles north of the main college campus in Forks. The two-acre space is divided into two sections. The first is a student farm where we grow vegetables for the dining halls, on-campus farm stands, special event catering, and donations. Students work as employees during the summer, and it is used as a space for volunteer service, multidisciplinary research, and classroom integration during the academic year. The second area is the Community Garden. This is a place for members of the Lafayette community to have their own garden spaces.

What do I love about it? It’s the community. But that’s just the easy answer. What does that mean? The only thing I can do is describe the experiences I’ve had that make it so wonderful. Almost every morning during the summer, a math professor and his wife come to the garden to weed, water, and harvest. We usually have a quick chat about the harvest, bugs, and weather. Although it seems trivial at the time, looking back it’s these moments that I love most. I often see a smile and a wave from professors from a variety of departments, students, deans, athletic coaches, recreation services, residence life, technology services, admissions, and their families as they pull on their garden shoes, roll up their sleeves, and dig in.

What I like most about gardening is the connection I feel to the land as I plant, tend, and harvest. Most of us have lost that connection because we spend a lot of our food dollars at the grocery store (me included) where, in general, there is little association to the origin of the products we buy. During the spring, summer, and fall, we have ample options for local produce, meat, and dairy. The farmers’ markets, farm stands, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) membership options make it easy enough to find local foods. So, even if you don’t have the time or desire to be growing all your own food, you can get it from a local farmer that does.

During the winter in the Lehigh Valley, there is not much growing. This winter has been mighty mild, but the constant freeze-thaw action we’ve seen is not ideal for growing food. I have managed to get some “local” produce from Lancaster including root vegetables and tubers such as carrots, turnips, and potatoes. But how is “local” defined? From Easton where I live, Lancaster County might be defined more “regional” than local. The wonderful folks at Keepsake Farm and Dairy, Reeder Farms, and Hunter Hill Farm are examples of our own local gems right here in the Lehigh Valley.

Folks at the Kellyn foundation, many organizations, and schools are working to get local food into our institutions. We are hoping that our farmers are up for the challenge and that you, as a consumer of food, want to see more local food in the Lehigh Valley. To me, there’s no reason why not: the fresh food tastes better, and buying local supports the local economy—all reasons to choose local. Another exciting piece is that community gardens are popping up all over the Lehigh Valley. In Easton alone, there are several in the West Ward. Lehigh University has a great program, as does Northampton County Community College.

At the Lafayette Community Garden, I often wonder what brings people to join. Are they interested in environmental initiatives, in growing food, or in the community? Everyone I talk to has a different answer, but one underlying theme is the same: growing food together creates a special kind of community. Whatever the reason is, I’m glad to see it.

In our hectic world of busy days and industrialized food, it’s wonderful to see so many people slowing down to connect with the land, their food, and each other.

by Jennifer Bell

Jennifer is Organic Garden Manager and Metzgar Environmental Project Coordinator at Lafayette College. 
She was a campus sustainability 
intern for the Alliance in 2009.

This essay first appeared in Sustainable Lehigh Valley, Spring 2012.

Posted in Agriculture, Building Community, Campus Sustainability, Community Gardening, Food for Health, Land Use, Local Food, Soil, Sustainable Growing,

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