Back to the land: Students dig in to help on organic journey

Members of SLO Food Alliance travel to VirginiaThey could have gone to Daytona Beach for sun and fun, but instead, five UW-Green Bay students used spring break 2011 to travel to the Blue Ridge Mountains town of Floyd, Va., to sample that region’s growing sustainable agriculture movement.

The students — seniors Leah Korger, Walter Schilling, Nicci Kelley, Evan Groth and Dan Schultz —are all members of the SLO Food Alliance. (SLO is “Sustainable, Local, Organic.”) The student organization is committed to increasing access to healthy food from local sources, with a mission to “Cultivate, Educate, and Advocate.” To this end, the students have managed the campus gardens on the Student Services plaza, sold produce on campus and to local restaurants, advocated for local sourcing of organic food by the University’s food service, and sponsored films, speakers and field trips to educate the campus community about food and sustainable agriculture issues.

The students were energized to see producers, distributors and consumers working together to cultivate a local organic food network. The “Eco U” contingent provided volunteer labor on two organic farms, visited an apiary/honeybee sanctuary, and toured a meadery, a winery and a major organic food distribution operation. They also spent time in community service by assisting Plenty, a local organization that works to provide healthy food to school children and needy families. The UW-Green Bay students pitched in by delivering food to needy families and helping a local charity make and serve healthy snacks at the elementary school.

The students were accompanied by Michael Stearney, the dean of enrollment services and their chapter adviser. Marla Martinez ’97, a former student of Stearney’s, now resides in Floyd, where she works in child protective services. She served as the local “concierge” for the visitors, connecting the students to farms, lodging and organic food venues.

“The students were the talk of the town, and were even featured on the front page of the Floyd Press,” Stearney says. “Most valuable and memorable, however, were the new friendships they made with the kind and generous people of Floyd, Virginia, who so graciously hosted them.”

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