April, 2018

Whether it’s a student championing community gardening or a faculty member fighting food insecurity on campus, many Minnesota private colleges are connecting with their communities to address the issue of food injustice. And the topic was a popular theme among the community engagement efforts that won awards this month at Minnesota Campus Compact’s annual summit. Seven awards involving Minnesota Private Colleges focused on food.

Bethel student works on food justice in Frogtown

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Tazrae Song’ony never thought she’d find herself digging through a garden all summer long. “When I was younger my mom had a garden — I never really liked it,” Song’ony said. “It wasn’t until I realized gardening can connect us to our community that I loved gardening.”

Song’ony has always been interested in community engagement. At Bethel University, where she’s a junior studying musical theatre and reconciliation studies, she was given leadership opportunities on campus to build community. “I was approached by the assistant director of community engagement, Tanden Brekke, after showing leadership around social justice issues on campus,” Song’ony said. “He asked me to help him with some work that was being done in the Frogtown and Rondo communities of St. Paul. And of course I said yes.”

Song’ony spent the summer between her sophomore and junior year working with Frogtown/Summit University Community Partnership to organize a community garden and connect communities to healthier and local food sources. She ran programming for youth, worked with community leaders to promote conversations about fresh produce and co-facilitated community based events.

“The biggest thing that makes a garden work is the community,” Song’ony said. “Without the community’s spirit the heartbeat of the garden is limited.”

Song’ony received the Campus Compact Newman Civic Fellowship for her work.

Hamline’s Feed Your Brain Campaign

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When students sign-up for one of Susi Keefe’s classes, they can expect to experience first-hand the issues taught in the classroom.

A professor of public health sciences and biology at Hamline University, Keefe was putting together the curriculum for her health and the environment class when she was approached by An Garagiola, a junior at Hamline, about food insecurity on campus. “Through a survey An administered, we learned that 76 percent of the students who responded described having food insecurity in the last semester,” Keefe said. “I realized we needed to focus on it.”

Garagiola became Keefe’s teaching assistant and together they created the Feed Your Brain Campaign, which was integrated into the class’ curriculum. Combining work in the classroom, community engagement and service-learning on campus, the campaign was designed to not simply help students learn about food insecurity but to prompt them to do something about it. The campaign culminated with students hosting meals on campus and having discussions around the topic of food insecurity.

“It became clear that many of my students had experience with food insecurity,” Keefe said.

“They were beyond learning about it from a textbook; they wanted to do something about it.”
For their work on the campaign Keefe was awarded the Presidents’ Civic Engagement Steward Award and Garagiola was awarded a Newman Civic Fellowship.

St. Kate’s Empty Bowl Project

The connection between a first-year ceramics class and food insecurity may not be completely clear, but at St. Kate’s they are deeply linked.

St. Kate’s has been hosting an Empty Bowl event since 2011 but the project recently has transformed through the work of Deandra Bieneman, community outreach manager at Open Arms of Minnesota, and Monica Rudquist, assistant professor of ceramics at St. Kate’s.

Traditionally the event had been a fairly simple fundraiser with a donation that then went to a food-focused non-profit. But after a change to the organization who donated the food, the project needed to innovate. Bieneman engaged and challenged Open Arms to produce the meal, and with the assistance of the Center for Community Work and Learning, Rudquist engaged her ceramics class through service-learning to support the project and facilitate students’ understanding of the relationship between functional ceramics and food.

“After a lot of hard work on both sides, we transformed it into a student-led community event with bowl making workshops, a public meal and community building — all hosted in a social justice-centered art gallery,” Bieneman said. “It started off as a fundraiser but has turned into so much more.”

The donations collected at the event support Open Arms of Minnesota, which delivers free nutritious meals to people living with life-threatening illnesses in the Twin Cities.

The project won Minnesota Campus Compact’s Presidents’ Civic Engagement Steward Award.

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Other food-focused award winners

  • Janet Nguyen, Augsburg University, for work as the student food shelf coordinator.
  • Carleton College’s Food Recovery Network Program directors for their work building bridges between dining hall staff, students and community organizations.
  • Neighborhood House, which was nominated by St. Catherine University for its work providing food to those seeking assistance through the Food Support Program.

Check out more on these 2018 Campus Compact award winners — and more than 40 others from Minnesota Private Colleges, along with others from the state’s public systems.

By Tom Lancaster