Sustainable Agriculture Project to host open house

GVL/Kevin Sielaff - Austin VanDyke (right) and Skyla Snarski (left) work the fields on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015 at the Sustainable Agriculture Project.

Kevin Sielaff

GVL/Kevin Sielaff – Austin VanDyke (right) and Skyla Snarski (left) work the fields on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015 at the Sustainable Agriculture Project.

Riley Collins

Imagine peering outside of the classroom window to see a smiling man on a bicycle pulling a wagon full of vegetables and fresh flowers. This is the type of project that Youssef Darwich, farm manager at the Grand Valley State University Sustainable Agriculture Project (SAP) hopes can bridge the gap between sustainable farmers and the community.

In the meantime, Darwich invites the GVSU community to join the SAP’s spring open house event called “Cultivate,” which aims to bring campus communities together around the environment.

The SAP has collaborated with GVSU’s hospitality and tourism management classes to bring guests entertainment, complete with live music, free dessert and a taste of the SAP’s fresh grown veggies.

In addition, the event will feature information about current organizational projects and future opportunities, along with a trip out to the farm.

For Lamont Arrington, creative intern at the SAP, the event will serve as an invitation for guests into the complex, yet welcoming world of environmental sustainability.

“It’s important that it is seen as more than just a farm, because it’s also a place for research and to relax,” Arrington said. “It’s a place people come to play music. There’s a lot of things that go on there.”

Last fall, the SAP planted more than 100 fruit and nut trees, which Darwich said were selected to balance productivity and diversity. Projects like this reflect one of the long-standing main goals of the SAP, which is to cultivate a diverse group of skills and talents to balance the project.

“Majors and backgrounds beyond what people usually associate with farming have a lot of relevance,” he said. “And that’s one of the things we hope to illustrate at this event: everybody has a place. We’re here to help develop your niche.”

Since its formation in 2008 as a community garden, the SAP has grown into a space for research and internships which students of all backgrounds can participate. Only a few of these opportunities include community outreach, art, data analysis and event planning.

In addition, the SAP created some unique ways for students join in on the conversation. As a more recent effort, creative interns with SAP are working to produce a video podcast called “Growing Grand,” which gives viewers insight about the environment and sustainability.

Arrington acts as script writer and host of Growing Grand. As a writing student, he was able to find his niche in SAP by developing the series and being able to talk with guests about topics they are passionate about.

“I thought it was so interesting that we have so much impact on the world in our daily lives, you know, that wasn’t something I haven’t considered before,” he said. “I’m just trying to help out in my own little way.”

The Cultivate open house event is designed to encourage students and attendees to consider the foods they eat, as well as its impact on the surrounding environment. In addition, it works to connect diverse groups of people around an impactful, campus project.

“The reality of it is that when we students go to these kinds of things, we don’t even know what kinds of questions we should be asking,” Arrington said. “So, events like this get put on so that we can present that information in a really cool way.”

In addition, he said that it is okay to be unsure of where to start. Sustainability and its rising status as a discussion topic, has not been at the top of the list in high school education. But Arrington said taking the steps to become familiar with it now can have a lasting impact.

“With farming, what you do now you live with in the future. So, if you do a little more on the front end, you’ll be rewarded with abundance in the future,” Darwich said.

In the end, he stressed the importance of considering sustainability in everyday life and recognizing that each individual has something to contribute.

“If you’re a little unsure of how to take that first step, just come to the farm,” he said. “We’ll see where we can go.”

The Cultivate open house will take place Saturday, April 1, from 1 p.m to 3 p.m.