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Time to Bloom

By Emily Sullivan

Change is scary. Challenges are even scarier. I have avoided finishing things that challenge me in a way that I didn't expect and I have avoided changing myself in order to face those challenges. And to be honest, I loved being a barista in a community where my promises only lasted as long as it takes to make a latte.
Students from a service-learning class mulching one of the garden beds

But this year will be my first full year in a professional environment and I’m a bit terrified. I am also so excited.


At Mary Baldwin College I get to work with college students to grow food. I get to talk to students about issues I think are the most important and hear what they think is most important. I can make an impact similar to the impacts made on me by my mentors in school.


One of the biggest challenges I am facing this year is how to inspire others. My main goal at MBC is to engage students on campus with food system issues and inspire them to find something to be passionate about related to food.
Venn diagram from Johns Hopkins University
In my mind, these connections are clear. We are what we eat and a lot of the food that is being consumed is not what most of us would want to be. Unhealthy, unnatural, hyper-processed, and unspoilable. We also can make a difference in the world by being choosy about what we decide to eat. There is so much overlap and so many reasons to be thoughtful about our consumption, and many of the students I am working with are living away from home for the first time. They actually have a chance to consider their own consumption.

The students have access to a garden right here on campus, and they have the support of faculty and staff to grow food and supply the dining hall with it. They have opportunities that are not always present or as easily accessible on larger college campuses. And some of the students are interested. Through two service-learning classes I am helping  in, there are students that have some experience in gardening that are excited to use the skills their grandparents taught them when they were younger, there are students that are just starting to connect the dots between poverty, obesity, and why our food system is broken, and to be honest there are students that are just taking these classes to meet requirements. Each student has a unique point of view and a unique experience to bring to the table. I feel that by working in the MBC community I am learning more than they are sometimes! In both of these classes the students are required to fulfill at least 12 hours of volunteering.
Students collecting mulch for garden beds
In order to engage the students, include them in decision making, and help them feel the agency that is key for them to take ownership I am trying to provide brief lessons on how to plan, plant, and care for a garden in our short time together each week. With each meeting time I find a new insight in how to plan a lesson that not only disseminates information, but also helps students feel that they are included in each step of the process and helps them feel ownership of the garden.
Windows painted by students in a service learning class to promote the student garden

For the first time I feel that I have a supportive work-environment that can propel me forward to accomplish the things I want to accomplish. Having an office job in the past has felt like the antithesis of my personality and goals. I want to be busy, interacting with people, working outside, standing up, and caffeinated. However, being stationed at the Spencer Center, I am able to be busy, interact with people, work outside (soon!), and able to stand all day if I want (my advisor has a stand up desk, which is just a great idea). My years as a barista are certainly missed right now, but as I’m adjusting I am realizing change isn’t so bad.  


So despite the change, despite the challenges of follow through, and learning how to inspire others I am going to grow this year through challenges and triumph. And I know I will be better off for it. Even without the perk of free coffee and donuts...
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