GV creates community through Sustainable Agriculture Project

Produce+from+the+Community+Supported+Agriculture+efforts+of+Grand+Valley%27s+Sustainable+Agriculture+Project.+Courtesy+%2F+Yumi+Jakobcic

Produce from the Community Supported Agriculture efforts of Grand Valley’s Sustainable Agriculture Project. Courtesy / Yumi Jakobcic

Katherine Arnold, Staff Reporter

During this hectic year, it can be hard to remember the days when volunteer work was commonplace. For some organizations, they have either had to limit or cease their volunteer efforts because of the risks involved with maintaining their full operations. At Grand Valley State University, however, COVID-19 hasn’t hindered the work of the Sustainable Agriculture Project (SAP).

“The Sustainable Agriculture Project was started by Grand Valley students with a vision for a brighter future involving sustainable food systems,” said Angela Haan, co-president for Farm Club, which volunteers for SAP. “It has grown a lot since its creation, and we now offer community supported agriculture and heavily donate to local organizations.”

Their efforts include donating produce to organizations and people in need, hosting students to earn credit or volunteer with the farm, and educating those who participate about the sustainable practices involved with growing produce. Yumiko Jakobcic, Director for the Office of Sustainability Practices, considers SAP to be her most favorite spot on campus.

“I love everything about it – the people, the space, the sense of community out there,” Jakobcic said. “I encourage everyone to come visit if they haven’t been before.”

Margaux Sellnau, once the Lead Intern and now the Farm Manager and Educator of the SAP, loves the community involved with the project just as much as the land.

“I enjoy the people the most,” Sellnau said. “I feel so lucky being able to get to know people through doing activities together. The bonding that came come from it – words cannot describe. The mentorship that I was able to have at the SAP provided me with the guidance that I needed at the time. The Farm Manager is merely a facilitator guiding the student through the research or project, providing them with resources, knowledge, and skills.”

For student volunteers, alongside that learning and mentorship is an experience of discipline and power.

“The SAP encourages individual growth and stimulates curiosity for the student workers and volunteers,” Haan said. “Perhaps most importantly, it is a space of empowerment that teaches you how to grow your own organic food. We help to maintain the land, and in return the farm offers us resources and a place to teach, learn, and host events. While we work, we are visiting with friends and sharing laughs, while at the same time fulfilling our responsibilities to the land, plants, and people.”

With the advent of COVID-19, their operations have shifted in order to honor social distancing, including more limitations placed alongside the new stay-in-place order. Nevertheless, SAP has continued to operate through them. Rather than succumbing to the chaos and uncertainty, those involved have instead gained a stronger dedication to the cause.

“Positive impacts from COVID-19 that I see, are the office, interns, and volunteers are working more intimately,” Sellnau said. “This summer without anyone allowed on site, we really had to get through a lot together with the office of sustainability practices, our partnering organizations, and now our interns and volunteers.”

Perhaps the most important aspect of SAP’s community contributions is the lesson they offer to the GVSU community. They demonstrate a dedication to learning and volunteering that continues past pandemic worries and continues to create a positive impact for the students, faculty, and staff involved in the work of creating a sustainable agriculture practice.

“My hopes and dreams for the SAP have not changed,” Jakobcic said. “Even though this is a period of uncertainty and new challenges, we still have significant student interest in the SAP and we’re still able to do some of the things we’ve always done.  Last week, I was so heartened to see the Farm Club students masked up and distanced, but otherwise going about their normal business of growing and making the place beautiful.”

While operations are currently limited with the stay-in-place order, interested students can keep up to date by following the GVSU Farm Club Facebook page. SAP updates and information will continue to be posted there as the situation changes. Anyone considering contributing their time and effort can find out more at www.gvsu.edu/sap.

“SAP is a welcoming space for students of all majors and backgrounds to come and learn, grow, and relax from the nuisances of everyday stressors,” Haan said. “No matter how much or how little you know about gardening, you are welcomed.”