Manure. Straw. Compost. Repeat.
Skye-Hibbard Swanson, Chemeketa Community College’s AmeriCorps VISTA food relief and service learning coordinator, compared this “sheet composting process” to building layers in a lasagna. But this lasagna won’t be for eating; instead it’s for growing things to eat.
Dozens of Chemeketa students took advantaged of a rare sunny day in March to build garden beds on the east end of the Salem campus. And from those garden beds will come fresh vegetables to be disturbed through Chemeketa’s student food pantry.
“The idea is to provide more nutritious food and food that may be a little more difficult to afford sometimes,” Hibbard-Swanson said.
The food pantry, located in the Student Life office, is available to those with Chemeketa ID cards to discretely access basic food and toiletry items.
The pantry gets regular use. Hibbard-Swanson said the pantry is used by 3 people on a typical class day. By the end of spring term, at the current rate, the food pantry will have given away more than 500 boxes of food this school year.
Hibbard-Swanson tested putting fresh produce in food pantry boxes to see if it be worthwhile. The results showed there would be interest in receiving fresh produce, and so the project moved forward.
Among the crops planned to be grown in the garden include strawberries, beets, cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, cabbage and potatoes.
“I did a survey through the food pantry and asked people if we were able to provide fresh fruit and vegetables, what would you be most interested in getting and then used those results to make decisions about what we are going to plant,” Hibbard-Swanson said.
The reasons for providing fresh food are numerous.
“It may provide a lot of variety,” Hibbard-Swanson said. “It’s something more affluent people may enjoy, so it’s a food justice issue…it tastes a lot better, I think. That’s a subjective thing, but I think it tastes better than canned or frozen food, to have it fresh. It’s also nice to know it was grown right here on campus, to have it hyper-local.”
Students working on the garden also feel it’s going to be beneficial.
“I see students coming to Student Life every day getting food, and it’s great that we have that available for students because it really helps them out,” student Ashley Anderson said.
Continued work in the garden will be done by a 2-credit spring term course, CG123, Community Service Leadership, taught by Hibbard-Swanson.
In addition to the new garden, Chemeketa students have taken on additional projects to keep the pantry stocked, including the Trick or Treat for Hunger project on Halloween. College staff and faculty also regularly donate food items or donate cash to Student Life for purchasing items.