Psychology professors, Barb Curchack of Inver Hills and August Hoffman of Metro State, inspire civic engagement and collaboration in their students
In 2014, the Inver Hills Community College–Metropolitan State University Interdisciplinary Community Garden and Orchard completed a third season of operation with plans to expand the garden’s collaborative and charitable impact. Barb Curchack, Ph.D., an IHCC psychology professor, and August Hoffman, Ph.D., a Metro State psychology professor, founded the community garden on the Inver Hills campus in spring 2012 with the idea to explore community gardening as a teaching tool that could establish relationships across cultural and generational divides through service and teamwork.August Hoffman and Barb Curchack
“Our motto is ‘Growing a Stronger Community,'” Barb said, noting how the increasing prevalence of urban farming, permaculture and farmers’ markets is connected to the pressing need to keep neighborhood food shelves fully stocked. “The time is right for colleges to invest in partnerships that help create more sustainable communities.”
August pointed out that students working on the garden share knowledge and insights that extend beyond the project to include future academic and career plans. “Students from Metro State keep Inver Hills students informed about what psychology majors do at the university,” he said. “They talk about what classes to take at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. The community garden has given students from both institutions the opportunity to come together and forge partnerships.”
Last summer, Barb and August gave a presentation called “Keeping the Green in Community Gardens and Urban Forests: How to Provide Healthy Foods for a Hungry Community” on the Sustainability Stage in the Eco Experience building at the Minnesota State Fair, where they networked with Sara Hayden from Sara’s Tipsy Pies, who put them in touch with Ed and Stephanie Stec, the owners of Sunrise River Farm in Wyoming, Minnesota. That new connection prompted a group of Inver Hills and Metro State students, faculty, staff and administrators to make two trips to Sunrise River Farm’s apple orchards. On the first trip in September, the group harvested 2,000 pounds of just-fallen Zestar! apples. On the second trip on Halloween, they picked 3,000 pounds of Honeycrisp apples right from the trees. Another 450 pounds of Duchess apples were donated by Fischer’s Croix Farm Orchard in Hastings, Minnesota.
All the apples were subsequently donated to First Lutheran Church in St. Paul as well as to food shelves in a number of locations, including the Mobile Pantry, Loaves and Fishes, Metro State, the Church of St. Patrick and more.
“We held three events where students baked more than one hundred apple pies,” Barb said. “They also made applesauce, apple crisp and stewed apples. Everything was served to St. Paul residents during community meals at First Lutheran Church. We have so many ways to get healthy, fresh food to people who need it. We’ve found that the amount of work involved for volunteers is more than doable.”
August added that making sure surplus food reaches destinations like First Lutheran Church is more important than ever. “For the first time in thirty years, the church will not be serving Thanksgiving dinner due to insufficient food donations,” he said.
Planting fruit trees in Red Lake Nation
Last October, August Hoffman and a Metro State student presented on the IHCC–Metro State Community Garden at the 2014 Northern Lights Psychology Conference on the campus of the University of North Dakota. While at the conference, they met community leaders from Red Lake Nation, a federally recognized, sovereign Indian reservation in Red Lake, Minnesota. The conversation turned to fruit trees and an invitation to visit the reservation.
“I brought along a traditional gift of apples, tobacco and venison,” August said. “I felt like I was overdoing things a little, but as it turned out, they were delighted with the gift.”
That visit generated plans for students to plant an orchard of fruit trees on the reservation in spring 2015.
Inver Hills Community College is partnering with CHS and the CHS Foundation to launch the Agricultural Sciences Career Pipeline Program, a new statewide educational and career pathway initiative for middle and high school students. Funded by a $250,000 grant from the CHS Foundation, the Agricultural Sciences Career Pipeline Program will introduce thousands of students from across Minnesota to career opportunities in the agricultural sciences. To learn more, contact Kristin Digiulio, IHCC biology instructor, at 651-450-3272.
Community Garden highlights from 2014
- Inver Hills faculty created garden events for their students and also worked in the garden (“Their help was invaluable,” said Barb.)
- Students planted a small orchard at Crosswinds Arts and Science School in Woodbury, Minnesota
- Plans are set for Inver and Metro State students to work with middle school students at Crosswinds as part of a green mentoring program
- Biology students took soil tests for their Environmental Science class
- English students distributed a survey with several questions pertaining to the IHCC-Metro State Community Garden, including questions about personal garden plots and gardening classes
- Students and faculty from the
Landscape Horticulture program at Dakota County Technical Collegeare joining forces with the IHCC–Metro State Community Garden to create a three-pronged partnership
- August Hoffman and 10+ students traveled to Detroit, Michigan, in November to plant 50 trees and a collection of bulbs in collaboration with students from the University of Michigan, Dearborn
- Eating Gardens, a Michigan-area nonprofit, will donate foods in spring 2015 to local residents
- Students learned about the benefits of permaculture and raising healthy food for low-income families