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Midland Students Learn Value of Planting, Growing Food for Local Food Pantries


A field trip to the Unity Garden at the Tri-Faith Initiative campus in Omaha has provided food for thought for some Midland University students.

Dr. Courtney Wilder’s Ethics of Food Class spent two days helping plant a variety of produce that is then distributed to area food pantries, including the Warrior Open Cupboard at Midland. Students also helped prepare raised beds, put down mulch, assisted with weeding in the orchard, and worked in the greenhouse space in Temple Israel.

Wilder, Professor of Religion, is an avid gardener herself and is working toward her Master Gardener certificate. She has done volunteer work at the garden in the past and saw value in her students experiencing the origin of the food before it makes its way to the pantries.

“That food has to come from somewhere, and it’s through the work of volunteers they are able to help supply food to pantries,” Wilder said. “It was hard work, but our students were eager to help and learn. They learned not only about planting skills but about how to manage a space that large.

“They got the opportunity to contribute to something that is unequivocally important to families in need, and it was important to them to be actively engaged in the community.”

Ethics of Food is a new special topics class Wilder offered during the 2023-24 academic year. The goal of the class was to learn that the importance of food goes well beyond what shows up on the dinner table. “The books we are using talk about global food systems and ethical problems in large-scale agriculture, as well as food scarcity and the pluses and minuses of the food pantry system,” Wilder said. “Our students have been doing research where they have surveyed other students to find out what they know about food pantries and what they would like to see. We also have students who are price-checking local markets for food and helping the Warrior Open Cupboard make the most of its monetary resources. Then, there are students doing interviews with other students where they learn about food heritage and food practices.

“Food isn’t just about nourishment; it’s about transmitting culture and family experiences, and food pantries need to engage in research to be able to provide culturally appropriate food.”

For many students, this was their first experience in gardening work. Wilder was excited to see the response from her class and their willingness to help provide for families who may be facing food insecurity. “As someone who likes to garden, it was fun for me to bring that element into our classroom and get others involved,” she said. “Even if it may not have been their jam, they worked hard, were cheerful, and had great interactions. I was very proud of them.”

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