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Dominican students learn about food policy and sustainability

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University Minister Matt Palkert and nine Dominican students spent four days – October 20 to October 23 – learning about the impact food has on communities through working with organizations in Chicago and Dubuque, Iowa.

Through a variety of experiences gathered together into one alternative break immersion experience named “Healthy Food, Healthy Communities,” students learned more about food policy and sustainability.

The group first visited the Eco Justice Collaborative in Chicago Thursday, Oct. 20, where they learned about the politics of climate change and food justice, or the system of getting food. On Friday, they reviewed the green initiatives in which Dominican is involved and brought the last of the Priory Garden’s produce from the 2011 season to the Oak Park food pantry and then went to Urban Habitat’s garden at Northside College Prep to learn more about urban farming.

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Senior Spencer Campbell, a student leader for the trip, described Urban Habitat as “an oasis in the city.” “It was helpful to see other students passionate about caring for the environment and the community,” he said.

The group then traveled to New Hope Farm, a Catholic Worker Farm outside of Dubuque, Iowa and worked for most of Saturday morning doing farm chores. That afternoon and evening, they learned more about the Catholic Worker movement and agricultural work.

“All of us at Dominican live for a more just world, but [the people at the Catholic Worker Farm] take it to an extreme, and I think it’s a good experience for Dominican students to see people so radically committed to it,” Palkert said.

Campbell, an environmental management major, said he went because of his interest in environmental issues. “I wanted to see the stewardship and commitment to sustainability and agriculture firsthand.” He also said he had a revelation while on the trip. “I learned that the best way to lead is to be more of a mentor than an administrator; it’s best to lead by example.”

This was the first alternative break immersion experience for sophomore Andrea Dietz, a nutrition and dietetics major. “It was wonderful to see that it’s possible to live as sustainably as I would like,” she said. Dietz said the people at the farm lived so simply that they were under the tax bracket, which she said enables them to not pay taxes to a government that endorses actions and policies they may not support. “And yet, they had plenty to eat and had beds to spare,” she said.

One student, sophomore and math education major Willa Skeehan, said her goals were altered. “Now I think I want to live in a rural community center…my service experiences will have an impact on me now and when I become a teacher.”

“Some students’ worldviews were radically changed by this experience; some asked if they need to live differently at home,” Palkert said. “They are taking what they learned, living it, and trying to educate others.”

University Ministry and the Office of Service Learning are planning a service trip to Cuernavaca, Mexico this January. The department is also planning two immersions for spring break in 2012: Works of Mercy in Kansas City, Mo. and Welcoming the Stranger in Atlanta. Applications for the spring break trips are due January 18.

Mary Stroka, Editor-in-chief

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