Growing Sustainable Food Inspires Baker Graduate
Inspired after reading Michael Pollan’s Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education, Sam Beecher, who graduated December 2012, believes a career working outside to make a difference is worth pursuing.
During the Interterm between the fall and spring semesters of his junior year, Beecher helped with a nonprofit community garden in Arizona. He saw firsthand the benefits of 10,000 pounds of fresh produce being donated to local residents.
"Working with food is a very real thing," the sociology major said. "I would enjoy working on a not-for-profit farm, growing sustainable food that is healthy for a community. I saw a documentary about farming being the perfect work for human beings emotionally, intelligently and overall a good bond, because you're caring for the plants that nourish you."
During a study abroad semester his sophomore year, he joined Students for Environmental Action in New Zealand, where he became intrigued during his daily walks by a farmer's market. Every Saturday he visited with the farmers.
"I would see an abundance of fruits and vegetables at the roadside farm stands," he recalled. I told myself I was going to come home and get a job on a farm."
That is when he discovered Rob Lominska's Hoyland Farm in Douglas County, where he volunteered. Lominska, a former Peace Corps volunteer and teacher, started farming full time in the mid-1970s, growing vegetables organically and reconnecting with the earth.
Farm Hands Fills a Need
“I really enjoyed the experience,” Beecher said. “It inspired me to do Farm Hands.”
Founder and past president of Farm Hands, Beecher and 15 other Baker students were committed to building healthy, sustainable and environmentally friendly relationships between the University and Douglas County farms. The group volunteered weekly at different farms to become more knowledgeable about gardening.
Currently, the group strives to raise awareness of the state of the modern food system, create opportunities for students to learn about alternative growing practices and to support the local farming community through service and building relationships. Farm Hands owns a 50-by-40-foot plot at the community garden in Baldwin City. They grow kale, lettuces and different herbs to supply the Baker cafeteria.
"We are passionate about learning and helping," Beecher said. "It's important to keep those two close together. That type of education is good to supplement the education we receive at college. We're working a lot with our minds and learning about theory. It is good for us to get outside and work with our hands and do something tangible."
Tanya Sieber, former director of Dining Services, served as the adviser to Farm Hands and admires the group's dedication. "I'm thrilled to see the farming fever spread among the Baker students," she said. "Being of service to our local farmers while learning from them is such a rewarding activity for these students. From a more global perspective, it's also a timely and important pursuit. This is Sam Beecher's vision, one that is not only impressive in its scope, but also boldly inspiring for many of us. He is a natural leader, and I expect we'll see his name at the forefront of this slow food movement."
Promoting Sustainability Globally
Beecher is combining his love of travel and interest in sustainable farming during his two-year Peace Corp assignment in Zambia. "Joining the Peace Corps has been a lifelong goal," said Beecher, who is working with the agriculture and forestry program in Zambia.
"I am so blessed with the assignment because it matches me with my interests," said Beecher. "I will get to implement sustainable farming techniques. My job will be to encourage farmers to plant perennial trees and shrubs that will provide not only fruit but help with soil fertility, structure, stop soil erosion and increase food security."
Beecher reported to Zambia in February and will return to the United States in May 2015. He plans to attend graduate school, focusing on the environment, sociology and public administration in rural development.
"I hope to thread agriculture and education," he said. "The Peace Corps should provide a foundation for those studies."