Written by Marisa Ahmed
The students of Experiential Learning through Food Systems do impactful and thought-provoking work. This semester, I had the honor of working on a project that will help share their stories and hopefully inspire others. The most digestible way to do this was as a series of short videos.
UC Berkeley students working to earn a minor in Food Systems are expected to not only fulfill course requirements, but complete a semester-long Experiential Learning project (listed as “ESPM 197”). Experiential Learning allows students to build relationships with a local community partner while applying theory they have learned in the classroom. More importantly, students are able to bring back and share their work to inform, and question the pedagogy.
Throughout the semester, I met with multiple stakeholders –Berkeley Food Institute, the Food Systems Minor Committee, UC Berkeley Public Service Center, American Culture Engaged Scholarship– to start to get a better scope of this project and how to best craft the videos. Although informative, my perspective and plan for the project completely changed after being able to interview the students themselves. ESPM 197 was first championed by students, and it is by their own volition and ingenuity that students keep making real change to their communities.
Three classmates graciously volunteered to participate in this video: Aliya Benudiz, Hannah Spinner, and William Aubrey Smith. One video is devoted to the importance of Experiential Learning. Additionally, I have created three mini featurettes for each student to better highlight the work they’ve accomplished this semester.
Aliya is single-handedly trying to save People’s Park, although the University is attempting to develop it into housing. To many, the Park is a community space that welcomes and accepts any who come by it. However, there is a huge divide between those who engage with the community and those who only harbor the stereotypes about it.
Aliya’s work helps to bridge this gap. She has spearheaded an initiative to build a community garden in the Northwest part of the Park, demonstrating how productive and important the space is – not just as a center of community culture but as a way to solve the pressing problem of food insecurity. She further illustrates just how underutilized green spaces on campus are and how productive a few garden beds tucked away on a small plot of land can be. Despite the agenda of the university, Aliya forges on, coordinating different groups and stakeholders to prove how valuable the space is.
Hannah Spends her Tuesday and Thursday mornings working in the garden of the school. She and Rivka (the longstanding garden teacher) teach the children to identify plants in the garden and understand their properties. The students are involved in planning, tending, and harvesting everything from their garden. Not only do children start to develop healthy eating habits, they also are shown the importance and ease of producing their own food.
Hannah mentioned that the best part of this class is that students are able to match reality with theory through tactile learning. The kids are constantly reinforcing what they are learning just by exploring around the garden. Some children take the recipes they learn in the garden back home to their families. This type of education aims to bring awareness of local food production and sustainability. With this knowledge, children are better equipped to think critically about where and how they are getting their food.
William does work with the SOGA Gardening Decal, the Basic Needs Committee, and the Berkeley Food Pantry. He connects all these moving parts to provide students with food and valuable knowledge on food production.
William believes that being able to grow your own food is one of the most powerful tools you can have. However, his focus is not just on the end-goal of food production, but bringing more awareness to the process and people integral to the food system. This includes teaching about the cultural significance of food, particularly foods native to the Bay Area and the Ohlone people who lived on the land before us.
William is working to improve the tucked away green space near Barker Hall. He is a main organizing force behind the movement to turn green spaces on campus into food producing areas, in order to abate the food insecurity crisis on campus. He tackles food insecurity by identifying green spaces and growing culturally relevant food in those places. The produce is harvested and sent as supplementary to the Berkeley Food Pantry in the MLK Student Union.
Both shocking and inspiring about the student narratives is that they often conflict with university initiatives. These students are creating spaces to fulfill the needs of their peers and establish better infrastructure for the community at large. Unfortunately, it seems these individuals single-handedly advocate for this work. These wonderful and impactful projects are only carried on by few relative to the vast campus community.
More students need to be aware of this work and provide support. Only then will the university recognize that changes need to be made. The work that Aliya, Hannah, Will (& the rest of the Food Systems students) do are steadily bringing awareness of food insecurity, food justice, food sovereignty, etc. to the campus. But, the numbers must grow to solve the larger problem. Thus, it has become even more important to make these videos that highlight the great work of Will, Hannah, and Aliya – to encourage more students to become involved in these movements that are deeply rooted in bringing basic necessities of life to all.