Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
The Swarthmore Good Food project aims raise awareness of “good”- that is, sustainable food on campus. At the heart of the effort, co-founded by Marshall Morales ’08 and Scott Brainard ’09, is the creation of a community garden “based on organic principles” in the plots in front of the Mary Lyons dorm. This garden, which will be grown side-by-side other community gardens, will be predominantly student-run. The will also engage in sustainable food advocacy via lectures, Sharples take-overs, films, and panel discussions on issues of food and the environment.
By sustainable, the group means local, seasonal, and organically grown food. “Local and seasonal are important because we import so many foods from so many places. By focusing on local and seasonal food we are supporting local farmers.” says Morales. But focusing on local food can also curtail global warming emissions. “A lot of people don’t realize that a meal can total up thousands and thousands of miles to get to you.” Purchasing locally grown food can limit the CO2 emissions that come from transportation.
The food that the garden will be producing will not be “officially” organic. In most countries, including the United States, there are specific legal standards that must be met in order to certify food as organically grown. However, obtaining this certification from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is a meticulous process which can take many years. “[To obtain certification]You need to use soil that hasn’t had chemicals in it for six years. But these have been community garden spaces – we don’t know the history of these areas.” says Brainard. “We will be farming next to community members who may be using chemicals, so we don’t really know.” For all intents and purposes, the group is “happy to say we are using organic principles, and to say we are growing good food and respecting the environment,” says Morales. That means that they will not be using synthetic fertilizers, not using pesticides or herbicides, and for the most part, allowing natural processes to take over the soil.
The group is looking forward to growing many types of diverse and beautiful fruits and vegetables that cannot be mass-produced as well by conventional farming methods. “We will be planting really amazing things,” says Morales. This includes heirloom varieties– lineages of crops that are very old and haven’t been hybridized or genetically modified. “Usually they aren’t very good for mass production, but there is tremendous variety in what you can [from] choose for in terms of nuances [in] size and shape, and color.” says Brainard. “What many people don’t realize is that the food they buy in the supermarket is selected to be tough enough to survive transport– they are not really selected for taste,” says Morales. “We will select for crops that will taste very good, and grow very well over here.” Among other crops, the garden will be growing brandywine tomatoes, watermelon, squash, and peppers.
Produce from this garden will be intended for sale at the Farmers’ Market in the summer and also stored sale during the school year. The group will also be creating another garden in the backyard of Professor of Sociology/Anthropology Steve Piker. This garden will be much smaller, and will serve only as a demonstration garden. “We want to show what can be accomplished in a very small space in almost anyone’s backyard.” says Brainard.
In many ways, the creation of the garden is an exercise in building community. “We will be working alongside all sorts of people in the ML plots. Our student workers will be there alongside faculty members and residents of the ville.” says Brainard. “The arboretum sees this as a great opportunity to get students really involved with the arboretum,” adds Morales. “Literally everyone we talk to is very excited about it.” says Morales.
The group has encountered support and enthusiasm from Dining Services and the Administration, and its long term goals include creating a permanent home for organic food served on campus. To that end, it will be sponsoring “Food Week” from April 9th-14th which will feature speakers and a Sharples Take over. The group also has many plans for their community garden. “Our long term goals are creating a clear yearly schedule and processes that increase local sustainable food around Swarthmore, as well as designing community education projects in the garden for local youth.” says Morales.
Ultimately, the guiding philosophy behind this sort of project is “promoting things that people can do in their own communities.” says Brainard. “It’s gardening as an empowering act, a way of having direct access to, and control of, your food.”