Guest Post: Service learning at Recirculating Farms

Guest post by Leor Weber, Tulane Farm Intern 2022

The Tulane motto, non sibi, sed suis, or not for oneself, but for one’s own, lends to service learning, which is an important piece of the core requirements to attend Tulane full-time. The students, faculty, and staff all hold in high regard the idea of contributing to the community in which our school exists. Every undergraduate student must complete at least two semesters of service learning. With that in mind, the requirement is not always simple. Service learning opportunities can often be sparse, and even when available, students can inflict accidental damage to their hosts. I learned that this is a typical struggle of volunteer work, especially in communities unlike one’s own. New Orleans is a unique city, one very different from where many Tulane students come from. The notion of financially privileged youth staying in New Orleans for only four years, primarily to get their degree and leave, which is what many students do, is not ideal. Rather, Tulane tries to integrate education and community, inspiring students to be more connected to New Orleans, and hopefully create stronger ties between the academic bubble of the college campus and the greater New Orleans area and people. Although the service learning program is not perfect, I happened to find an incredibly engaging class, with an equally amazing service learning opportunity: Recirculating Farms.

The class is Urban Farming and consists largely of the steps, processes, and options to establishing an urban farm, including everything from the permits needed to the best strategies depending on what crops you want to grow. We have a dozen garden beds on Tulane’s campus that we spend much of class time at, learning about the different crops we are growing, as well as how to be most successful in an urban environment. The service learning beautifully ties into the content, because the farm applies much of the knowledge we acquire in class. In the last few weeks, we have grown microgreens, which were quite successful, discussed urban chickens, experimented with different trellis options within our beds, and much more. The microgreens we grew were take-home projects that we harvested on our own, and I used them in salads. In essence, microgreens are small, fast-growing plants, like mini radishes or pea plants, that just need water to get started and are ready to be eaten in around two weeks.

In the time I spent at Recirculating Farms, I was able to see a lot of what I learned in our textbook and on campus training, applied to an actual working urban farm. The way the class and service learning opportunities combine and interplay is masterful, more so than I would have expected and than what I have heard from students in different classes with different service learning opportunities. Beyond the simple act of farming and learning about food production, the class gives details on some of the social issues too, like food insecurity. At the farm, this is a focus as well. The leaders there help to connect the dots of food and land access challenges and tangible solutions. More local farms can mean more local food IF people can pay fair prices for goods. Food security is when all people in a community have access to a variety of affordable, quality fresh foods year-round.  Urban farms are often established in areas where food security is lacking – but sometimes smaller farms actually mean higher prices. Urban farms can be a fix to food security issues if thoughtfully created –  by supporting people in the ability to grow their own food or increasing access to food in areas that might lack grocery stores or affordable supply. I recommend service learning in urban agriculture to any Tulane student, especially with Recirculating Farms!!

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