Students Create Sustainable Food Group: Growing Galesburg

Inspired by Knox College environmental studies class

October 11, 2012

Growing Galesburg at Farmers' Market

by Laura Pochodylo '14

Growing Galesburg, a community-based sustainable food organization created by Knox College students, has played a key role at the Galesburg Farmers' Market, stimulating business and nurturing interactions among Knox students and local food growers.

The group, which began as part of a Knox environmental studies class, aims to "enhance communication between Galesburg Farmers' Market vendors, community members, local businesses, Knox College, eaters, local schools, and city officials to create a healthy and thriving food system for the present and future," as described on the student-designed website.

Elizabeth Cockrell was one of the students in the Sustainable Food Systems class taught by Nic Mink, visiting assistant professor of environmental studies. She found that the mission of Growing Galesburg effectively combined her interest in food systems and desire to give back to the community.

"I volunteered in the Galesburg community throughout my time at Knox, and I was really interested in a sustainable food systems course because it tied together my interest in food issues and the community which had been my home for nearly four years," said Cockrell, a 2012 Knox graduate from Jacksonville, Illinois, who majored in environmental studies.

"We focused on highlighting local growers, promoting the farmers' market, and bringing people together through our shared connection -- food," she said.

For this small group of students devoted to a cause, a key goal was to engage fellow Knox students in the project.Growing Galesburg at Farmers' Market

"The best experience of starting Growing Galesburg was getting over 75 Knox students to the market," said Gretta Reed, a senior from Ridgefield, Connecticut, majoring in environmental studies. "Seeing the wonderful local growers I had gotten to know so well interacting with my fellow students was really fantastic."

The Growing Galesburg students organized a promotion to encourage Knox students to come to the market during the 2012 season. The Knox Bucks campaign was created in cooperation with The Center for Midwestern Initiatives, a Galesburg group that focuses on education and rural development and funded the Knox Bucks program.

Through the program, students could redeem their Knox Bucks -- usually worth $1 to $5 -- to purchase items at the market.

Evan Lewitus, a senior from Annapolis, Maryland, with a self-designed major in food systems, was pleasantly surprised by the success of the Knox Bucks initiative.

"(It) was pretty nice that the incentive worked so well," said Lewitus, who with fellow Knox student YJ Yi operated a hot food stand at the farmers' market. "I think Knox students responded to it just being an innovative and cool idea."

Growing Galesburg at Farmers' MarketAlex Jandernoa, a junior from Grand Haven, Michigan, remarked that getting other students involved is what made Growing Galesburg unique.

"My most memorable moment being a part of Growing Galesburg was our first market where Knox Bucks helped a vendor sell out for their first time," said Jandernoa, who has majors in environmental studies and anthropology-sociology. "It was pretty special to come in with something we didn't know would be accepted or work -- and both happened."

Jandernoa was also impressed with how Knox students interacted with vendors at the market.

"Instead of being shy and treating it like a grocery store, Knox students engaged the vendors, were interested in the products, and really tried hard to break down the stigma that students and locals can't get along," he said.

Other student groups got involved beyond redeeming Knox Bucks, too. The Sigma Chi and Sigma Nu fraternities donated funds to supply free coffee that Growing Galesburg student volunteers handed out at the market's welcome booth. The welcome booth also featured seasonal recipes to hand out to patrons.

Members of the Galesburg community who worked with the market noted the increased involvement of Knox students.

"Knox students in Growing Galesburg have had a major impact on the farmers' market," said Bill Morris, vice president of the Galesburg Business Association, which organizes the farmers' market. "Overall, they have brought positive energy to the event. It has been a successful summer due in part to the dedication and energy of Knox students."Growing Galesburg at Farmers' Market

Although the course is over, Growing Galesburg and the students' interests in sustainable food are continuing. Some students are combining other interests with a food focus to apply to a future career.

For Reed, this combination is education and food.

"I'm graduating at the end of fall term (2012) to pursue a career in farm education. I'm hoping to work at an agricultural center using farming practices to teach kids about natural cycles and healthy living," she said.

Cockrell, who graduated in June 2012 with a degree in environmental studies, is staying in Galesburg as a post-baccalaureate fellow and as a member of the recently launched KnoxCorps. KnoxCorps is a collaborative community partnership that pairs recent Knox graduates and undergraduates with non-profits in the Galesburg community.

"My (post baccalaureate) service project revolves around the variety of food initiatives happening at Knox, so I am definitely still involved in food projects in the Galesburg area," Cockrell said.

And with KnoxCorps, she is "creating infrastructure for a food hub centered in Galesburg, planning a workshop series on sustainability and environmental issues, and finding additional local sources of produce and food products for En Season Café."

Jandernoa also plans on combining his interest in community organization and sustainable farming for a potential future in the food industry.

"This winter and spring, I will be studying abroad in Costa Rica, studying sustainable development while working on a mango and orange farm," Jandernoa said. "I am also looking at interning with a food sourcing company or an urban farming program in Detroit."

Cockrell believes Growing Galesburg served an important role in uniting the community.

"All of this was to achieve our overarching goal of bringing people together over food, of inspiring a Galesburg where people are proud to say, ‘Our culture is agriculture,'" Cockrell said. "One of my favorite parts of this project was listening to people's stories. Whether it was a food blogger in Monmouth, a farmer and Knox Board of Trustees member, or a vendor at the farmers' market, everyone had stories revolving around food."