Noted Kentucky author, and farmer Wendell Berry wrote, “I begin with the proposition that eating is an agricultural act…Most eaters, however, are no longer aware that this is true. They think of food as an agricultural product, perhaps, but they do not think of themselves as participants in agriculture. They think of themselves as “consumers.” If they think beyond that, they recognize that they are passive consumers.”
If there is one thing that everyone has in common it is that we all have to eat. Food is a part of our daily routine, easily accessible everywhere and anytime. When people need food the natural instinct is to go to the store, giving little thought to the process involved in getting the food on the shelf.
Dr. Nicole Breazeale, Assistant Professor of Sociology at WKU-Glasgow is giving students a chance to re-think food, and food systems, by taking her class ‘Sociology of Food and Agriculture’. With a background and passion for community development, and an amazing group of students Dr. Breazeale, or Dr. B as she is called, proposed a bold idea-‘Breaking Ground: A Jail Garden Project’. Through her students and community partnerships a sustainable jail garden would be installed on the grounds of the Barren County Detention Center. Students would learn skills they could use in their own lives and food grown in the garden would be served inside the jail and any excess would be donated to the local soup kitchen. ‘Breaking Ground was born.
The class met for the first time yesterday and they began class by reading those words from Wendell Berry.
‘Breaking Ground’ is a partnership between WKU-Glasgow and the Barren County Detention Center. Each Thursday Dr. B begins class at 9:15am sharp in the community room at the Detention Center. The class is composed of 17 WKU students and five inmates who were selected after a detailed application process.
Broken up into two segments, students will spend the first half of the three hour class discussing coursework. Students will be assigned articles and essays each week that cover issues such as food security and food justice, the industrialization of agriculture, sustainability and the importance of the ‘buy local’ movement and the current state of our food system. Students will also take a close look at their own ‘food stories’ and specifically their own relationship with food.
The second half of the time, the class will be outside constructing the actual garden. By the end of this semester the vacant lot beside the detention center will be transformed into a sustainable garden. Standard garden fixtures such as raised beds and compost piles will be included in the project as well as lesser known practices such as hugelkultur.
Elise Swift is a WKU student who lives in Bowling Green a says it is unlike any class she has ever had and is glad to make the half hour commute every week from Bowling Green:
Sustainability is the key element to the garden project, meaning focusing on ways to meet current needs without preventing future generations from meeting their needs as well. Josh Johnson, who owns and operates his own farm in Cave City says the best part about sustainable farming is the fact that it is sustainable:
‘Breaking Ground’ would have never became a reality had it not been for the support of Barren County Jailer Matt Mutter. Mutter was supportive of the project from day one and is excited about partnering up with WKU. From allowing the inmates to take part in the actual class, to funding the materials needed for the project to helping gather materials and supplies, Mutter along with Chief Deputy Tracy Bellamy, Class D Coordinator Justin Hayes and Deputy Michelle Honeycutt have played key roles in getting ‘Breaking Ground’ underway. Deputy Samantha Johnson, who is also a WKU-Glasgow student, plays a dual role in the project. Johnson, in her role as a Deputy will be helping teach the food justice curriculum. In her role as a student, Johnson will be studying the psychology of food as part of an independent study program through WKU-Glasgow. Mutter says collaborations with community partners are a win for everyone involved and no matter what your background or current situation, food and where it comes from will always be important:
Along with Dr. B’, WKU Ag Professor Lindsey Reynolds and one of her classes will construct an herb garden, WKU Psychology Professor Melanie Asriel is excited to offer an independent study of the project, and the WKU-Glasgow Administration has pledged their support as well. While the list continues to grow, as of now community partners include the Ag Extension Office, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Barren County High School FFA, local farmers and the WKU-Glasgow Greentoppers.
Student Chris McDowell says working in the community, especially with a project like this, is a way to become part of the community. McDowell adds that a project like this is also a way to figure out different things he can do after he graduates with his degree:
Shovels hit the dirt for the first time yesterday as students built compost bins that will soon be used in the raised beds. Leading the discussion was Josh Johnson who will serve as the farm manager. Johnson added that farming in a sustainable way can have many advantages from cost savings and reducing waste to better yields and protecting the land and environment.