F.H. King Students for Sustainable Agriculture Bridges the Gap Between the Farm and the Dinner Plate

F.H. King
On Sept. 16, 2008, volunteers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s F.H. King Students for Sustainable Agriculture harvest green beans and weed their 30,000-square-foot garden plot, UW-Madison’s first community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm, near Picnic Point in Madison. Photo by: Jeff Miller

School is starting back in just over a month, and the vacant seats at the UW dining halls will soon be filled with new students eating dinner with their roommates, parents and new friends. They’ll talk about their new class schedules over sandwiches, pizza, and sushi and then make sure to grab ice cream on their way back to their new dorms.

Food is a staple of student life, helping them get to know new people, try new things and experience cultures from around the world. However, many students don’t give a second thought to the steaming food on their plates: where it comes from, who produces it and how it traveled from the rolling fields of rural communities to their dinner plates.

F.H. King Students for Sustainable Agriculture is a UW-Madison student organization that hopes to change that.

F.H. King Students for Sustainable Agriculture is a student organization that allows students to engage in conversations about the relationships between land, food, and people through engaging students with their student-run farm. Students can volunteer, intern or work in their student farm in the Eagle Heights Community Garden or their rooftop garden atop the Pyle Center.

Students will have the opportunity to grow, harvest and distribute a variety of fruits and vegetables from April until the end of October. Their immersive programming, internship opportunities and full-time student staff positions allow students to not just learn about the principles of growing fresh foods, but to reflect on the role that food plays in their own lived experiences.

Eric Brenner and Sam Srok, two current F.H. King garden directors, explained that food isn’t just “fuel” or an apolitical universal substance everyone needs three times a day; it’s deeply personal, political and can be engaged on many different levels.

“Food is both universal and intimate,” Srok said. “Everyone needs it. Everyone has some sort of unique relationship with it, but there are many structural factors that change people’s access to and relationship with food.”

F.H. King provides the programming and resources necessary for students to educate themselves about—as they say in their mission statement—“the relationship between people, land, and food.” And the relationship to the land is integral to our relationships with food; Brenner explains that the “sustainable” aspect of their sustainable agriculture process is realized in the way they orient their planning to ensure enough resources are left for the future.

“We carry over practices from the past, like crop rotations and past knowledge while leaving something for the future,” Brenner said. “This means taking care of the current physical environment where they grow their food as much as taking care to ensure the long-term durability of their projects.”

F.H. King helps students engage with their community through direct service and philanthropy, distributing the hundreds of pounds of fresh food they grow to the community through harvest handouts on East Campus Mall, Fridays at 1pm. They’re also trying to forge new collaborations with campus and community partners, such as the YWCA, Centro Hispano, the P.E.O.P.L.E. Program and UW Slow Food—and they’re hoping to increase capacity in order to strengthen the connections between the foods they grow and the people who enjoy them.

The F.H. King team combats food insecurity by making fresh, healthy and locally grown food accessible to anyone who wants it, because, as Brenner puts it, “What’s the point in working to grow food if people can’t access it?”

Students can attend workshops once school starts and can visit their new office space in the annex of the Horticulture building.

Sign up for F.H. King’s mailing list to get month-to-month updates on what’s new, or check out their website with more information on how to get involved.

By Anna Walther