Forging a Sustainable Future?

Tucked away on the corner of Sherman and Benton Street, there is the strong smell of soil. Walk inside the metal gate and a small house appears to the right, with flowers crawling up the sides. You will see a wooden awning sitting to the left, shielding picnic tables from the sun. As you walk into the garden, the stone path quickly turns to dirt where rows of soil beds lay filled with flowers, peas, and other seasonal vegetables. On the far side, you can hear the ruffle of feathers coming from an enclosure home to six chickens. One or two volunteers are bent over, sweeping the path or clipping stems, oblivious to the construction noises of the new law school a block away, or the cars driving by on the street. They are zoned in on the task at hand, in touch with the serenity that the Forge Garden provides. Once you enter the garden, all classes and obligations that were stacking up in your mind fade away. How have you gone so long without knowing about this small green space, so tranquil and so close to campus?

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The Forge garden is Santa Clara’s ½-acre garden that is located one block from campus, providing students with an education on sustainability and producing food that is sold not only to the school, but to the community as well. The garden is featured on Santa Clara’s sustainability website, where there is a list of twelve majors that span across the Business, Engineering, and School of Arts and Sciences who have used the Forge Garden as an “outdoor classroom, research space, and living laboratory” (The Forge Garden). For the small size of the garden, it is impressive how much it can produce. 4,173 pounds of produce is harvested, and 232 pounds of food is sold to the SCU dining services. The Forge Garden includes: “six chickens, four beehives, a 400-square foot greenhouse, a compost center, over 20 fruit trees, over 15,000-square feet of garden beds, a public commons, an aquaponic system, and the 2007 Solar Decathlon House used as an office” (The Forge Garden).

The garden is very accessible. Sitting only one block from campus, everyone has a means of getting there. It is run by student volunteers, and has an online calendar constantly being updated with all of the events happening at the Forge, hoping to draw in more students to the garden. Regardless of the activity, this garden is pulling Santa Clara University in to show them what occurs in that ½-acre green space.

However, despite all of the seemingly fantastic qualities, the Forge garden has had difficulty gaining popularity on campus.  We reached out to Santa Clara students through a Google survey, asking questions about how aware they are of the Forge Garden. Only a small group of students, most of whom have previous volunteer experience in the garden or have a specific environmental major, know about it. The promotional emails that are sent out only go to a small number of people, and a large portion of the people who attend the Forge garden have only heard about it due to word of mouth. The administration’s methods of promoting sustainability could evidently be much stronger.

The questions on the survey: Have you ever heard of the Forge garden? Have you ever been there before? Have you ever eaten something from the Forge Garden before? We received over 100 responses, finding that thirteen percent of students have never heard of it before, and seventeen percent have heard of the Forge, but have no knowledge about what it is. Considering that the garden is only a block from campus, forty-three percent had never been there before, even if they had heard about the garden and knew a lot about it. Seventy seven percent of students reported that they have never eaten anything from the Forge Garden, which shows how unaware they are that food from the garden is sold straight to the dining services at Santa Clara. Santa Clara’s administration is lacking in their promotion of the Forge Garden to the student body, considering their intense promotion of sustainability to the off-campus world.  Despite the school’s belief that their garden is known and used by the students, in reality, the administration has failed to educate students on what they are eating and where the food is coming from.  The school is trying to be sustainable, but are they really taking the steps to achieve those goals?

While SCU’s administration argues that the university is sustainable, there is a “general confusion of what sustainability means” (Filho, 4). The university’s website boasts its projects and programs like The Tiny House competition, where a group of students from the School of Engineering built a fully sustainable house. Therefore, they are defining sustainability as not only being able to maintain an economically friendly status, but being able to thrive with it. This definition fits with how we defined sustainability for this project, which included these characteristics: environmentally friendly, minimal waste, lasts forever, able to provide for all, and thriving. SCU’s idea of sustainability has the potential to allow students to thrive environmentally, but the students are unable to due to their lack of awareness as to the school’s initiatives.  Although “Santa Clara University’s ½-acre edible, organic garden is a hub for sustainable food system education”,and the “produce is featured in SCU Dining Services by Bon Appetit”, its intended message of sustainability is not effectively conveyed or implemented, largely due to the disparity between the administration and the student body.

While Santa Clara University may boast about having a sustainable dining hall, its students are unaware of the origins of their food from the Forge Garden, and are inadvertently biased against environmentally friendly meal options. The sustainable options offered by SCU have a stigma around them, as people have preconceived notions about these foods, with no further education by Santa Clara to change this, thus calling for a need to normalize more sustainable foods.

The label “vegan” has developed a slightly negative connotation over time. After being vegan for only a few weeks, I experienced a fair share of criticism for my choice to stop eating meat for moral reasons. Benson does have vegan options available for students who choose to not eat animal products, but the problem is that they are separately labeled vegan. For example, in the menu for the special, the non-vegetarian/vegan option is listed, and then the vegan alternative is below it. Rather than portraying the two as equal dining options, the vegan option comes off as the lesser, unappealing choice.  An unwelcome option for anyone other than vegans.

6340008099_8aab51e3ba_z_1While one could argue that this is done for the sake of ease for the vegan, I found that I still struggled to know my vegan options regardless. In the sandwich line, if you choose to eat veggie meat, the process of opening the packaging it comes in slows down the line. You inevitably become the center of attention, as hungry students look to see what is standing in the way of them and their sandwich. None of the otyvesveggiehamlgher meats are stored in packages, so it is quick and easy to get whatever processed meat you want. The price of soy chicken is higher than that of regular chicken, which is not encouraging students to try different, sustainable foods. None of the smoothie options are vegan, not even the Green Monkey, which sounds like it would be mostly vegetables. Salads are not labeled vegan, and neither are fruits or vegetables, so there are less preconceived notions attached to those food items.

Benson food, regardless of whether it contains animal products, should be treated equally in order to remove the stigma associated with it, so that more people will be willing to adapt sustainable eating habits.

Sustainable eating habits cannot start however, unless students are aware as to which food even is sustainable, and at Santa Clara, students are unaware as to what the sustainable Forge Garden provides to Benson. According to the Forge Garden website, “Occasionally, our produce is featured in SCU Dining Services by Bon Appetit student meals at The Marketplace in the Benson Memorial Center” (The Forge Garden). I have never stopped to think about whether the tomatoes used for my guacamole or the lettuce in my burrito were from the Forge Garden. The origin of our food is not made clear to SCU students, which distances us from our food and the impact it can have on the environment. The school should want to boast about the origins of their naturally grown products, and encourage students to choose natural products beyond Benson. Food is not just a source of nutrition and energy for our bodies, rather it is an opportunity to embrace and prioritize a sustainable lifestyle. The administration at Santa Clara University should make it challenging for students to avoid the issue of sustainability, not ignore it themselves.

jl15_themarketplace_3789_0068-760x507The misrepresentation of sustainability in Benson’s dining hall is not the only issue regarding the school’s sustainable habits.  Students can be actively involved in the Santa Clara Community without ever engaging in the services provided by the Forge Garden, thereby showing that the mere existence of the Forge Garden is not enough. Clearly, the administration is not actively enforcing this aspect of Santa Clara’s core values if most of its student population does not embody these ideals. The university’s idea of sustainability is prioritized in order to promote a green image of Santa Clara to the public, rather than to incorporate it into student daily life. It is all too easy to ignore the monthly email sent to students from the Center of Sustainability, and though SCU may claim that the Forge Garden is involved in certain classes, I am completely unaware as to which those are, and am therefore less inclined to take them.

The core curriculum at Santa Clara University is meant to create a well-rounded individual with Jesuit values “to deepen knowledge, habits of mind and heart, and experiences engaging with the world”, but where is the role of sustainability? (Core Curriculum).

The administration has formed an education that addresses most other subject areas, but it is lacking in sustainability. The creation of the Forge Advisory Board in 2015 instills hope with its mission statement “to promote and advocate for The Forge Garden in SCU community” (The Forge Garden). Adding a graduation requirement that calls for direct involvement with the Forge Garden or the idea of sustainability would seemingly be a good way to get students involved. It would be even better if the administration could encourage involvement with the Forge Garden without making it mandatory, but till then they will have to take it one step at a time.  The point is not to paint the school green, the point is to have the administration recognize that they need to put in just a little more effort with students.IMG_5574.JPG 

Although the administration believes that the Forge Garden is enough to encourage sustainability at the school, for the Forge Garden to truly be effective it must be on a larger scale. Since its establishment in 2008, the Forge Garden has been dedicated to informing students of sustainable food production, and promoting sustainability on campus. On the front page of the Forge Garden website, it boasts several aspects of the Forge Garden, such as having “six chickens, four beehives, over 20 fruit trees…” (Forge Garden) etc.  However, do they believe that these relatively small numbers are sufficient, considering one of Santa Clara University’s main priorities as an institution is sustainability?

When you dive deeper into the facts, only a tiny
fraction (five and a half percent) of foods produced at the Forge Garden are sold to SCU’s Dining Services. I realize it is not the main focus of the Forge Garden to produce the majority of food we eat in the cafeteria, but regardless, the Forge Garden should have a bigger presence in our day-to-day lives as students here at Santa Clara.

In fact, the Forge Garden itself is in a rather peculiar spot. Although it is not far from campus, it is a spot you would not pass by unless you were trying to, therefore it is very easy to forget about. Other schools have major programs dedicated to establishing sustainability within their community, and for many schools it is actively present in day-to-day life. Once sustainability is a significant part of your experience at school, and once students and faculty are consistently exposed to an environmentally friendly way of thinking, there is high potential for the members of the institution to think greener, and begin initiatives themselves to create a more sustainable world. Furthermore, this goal should not only apply to members of the scientific community, or only this or that major, rather all students and faculty in their various fields should be involved.  The minuscule initiative of the Forge Garden is not enough to truly make Santa Clara sustainable.  If the administration wants to create a more sustainable school,  one that creates an environmentally friendly place for generations to come, it must make the Forge Garden impact its students on a grander scale.

By looking at ways in which other schools get students involved in practicing sustainability, we can make adjustments to our own strategies here at Santa Clara University. One school that integrates sustainability into their students’ everyday lives on campus is Green Mountain College in the state of Vermont. Their initiative is not just to change the way students live while they are there on campus, but to ensure that its students graduate with the knowledge and practice of how to live a sustainable life after college. GMC says, “Alumni go on to start their own farms, run sustainable agriculture businesses or simply shop ethically. Green Mountain College and Cerridwen Farm are working to provide education and expertise, not only to feed ourselves today but to benefit future generations of people, animals and land” (GMC). Students do not just take a class on the subject or learn about the environment in the classroom, they grow and cook their own food and work on the farm. “You could say ‘every day is Earth Day’ at GMC. It’s ingrained in our culture. But we do like to celebrate, so each year the College sponsors Earth Week, with events like the Earth Fair, which features over 60 exhibitors and dozens of events at the local high school” (GMC). This is just one of very many fun events that GMC holds every year to get students involved. Green Mountain College makes sustainability something the students actually look forward to practicing and learning about, and that is why after college they continue living this way.

Green Mountain College strongly values their combination of working on the farm and education. Their farm is a “student-motivated campus farm, integrating essential hands-on learning with [their] liberal arts education” (GMC). They want their students to be as involved as possible, so they welcome everyone to come and join them. The school website says, “this is first and foremost an educational farm, so any lack of experience is not an issue — if you are willing to take the time to learn, you will be taught!” (GMC). Santa Clara could use this strategy to encourage students who might know little about the environment or have a lack of experience of farming to come and volunteer at the Forge Garden. If we could get more students motivated and involved on this mission for a greener community, the Forge Garden could grow big enough to actually send a significant amount of produce to Benson, and create a dining hall that is sustainable in both its talk, and its walk.  Here is a video about the school’s sustainability.

The reality of the Forge Garden is this: despite the administration doing its best to promote this sustainable place, the student body is really getting nothing out of it.  The school needs to recognize that their students are simply not involved in the sustainable lifestyle they are trying to lead.  Sustainability is not merely growing your own carrots.  Sustainability means maintaining the world’s resources so that humans and the Earth can continue to grow and thrive for generations to come.  If the administration truly wants to be sustainable, then they have to involve the students more.  After all, we are the future, and therefore are sustainability.

Santa Clara University is trying, and that is always the first step, but they cannot get stuck here. It is a long road to sustainability, and creating a garden and letting it lie is not going to create a sustainable student body. If we want to create a more sustainable world, we have to start taking more steps, and look at a bigger picture.

In an article in The New Yorker, a man named Michael Sorkin envisions a green, sustainable, New York City. Is this likely? No. Is it possible? Maybe. The point is not really to turn NYC into a garden, but in having this big idea in your head, it makes the smaller ideas easier. (Konnikova) Santa Clara could take a page out of this Sorkin’s book. They need to think on a grander scale, and start making the smaller ideas happen, so that the big idea, the sustainable Santa Clara University, can be accomplished. Step two in the small steps being taken towards a sustainable school is to involve the students, increase sustainability awareness.  Maybe incorporate the Forge Garden into classes, maybe put labels around the vegetables in Benson as Forge Garden Vegetables. These ideas may be small, but it is always the little things that end up mattering the most.  

References

“Core Curriculum.” Santa Clara University. Accessed 25 Apr. 2017.

FILHO, WATER LEAL. Transformative Approaches to Sustainable Development at Universities. Place of Publication Not Identified. SPRING INTERNATIONAL PU, 2016. Print.

Frazier, Ian. “The Vertical Farm.” The New Yorker. The New Yorker, 03 Jan. 2017. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.

Green Mountain College. 2017, http://www.greenmtn.edu/. Accessed 18 Apr. 2017.

Konnikova, Maria. “How Green Could New York Be?” The New Yorker. The New Yorker, 04 May 2015. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.

“The Forge Garden.” Santa Clara University. Accessed 25 Apr. 2017.

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