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Hawkeye Service Teams Work on Urban Farms Over Spring Break


University of Iowa students on two Hawkeye Service Teams spent their spring break working on sustainable urban farms that provide healthy fruits and vegetables to neighborhoods in Dallas and Detroit.

The students were among 12 team who traveled on Alternative Spring Break trips, helping 50 community partners across the U.S. March 11-16. Offered as a for-credit spring semester course, the programs promote service learning, social justice, and community building to students.

The Dallas team teamed up with Divinekinship, a social urban farming initiative that is helping turn a 17-acre plot of land into a sustainable farm in Duncansville, Texas, outside of Dallas.

 “The people of Duncanville rely almost completely on convenient stores for their groceries,” Christina Behrens, a leader for the Dallas service project team, said. “Most of these stores have little to no fruit or vegetable options.”

 Behrens said Divinekinship staff reminded the team of one thing during the week: “We want to create a food forest, in a food desert.” The Centers for Disease Control defines a food desert as areas that lack access to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk, and other foods that make up a full and healthy diet. 

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20170311 Hawkeye Service Team Dallas 5

The land in Duncanville does not have the proper soil for planting gardens.  To prepare the soil, the UI students mulched the ground for eight hours straight. While shoveling mulch is tiring and by no means the most ideal job, their hard work is going to make a lasting impact on the community.

 In just five years, the people of Duncanville will have complete access to the farm, providing fresh fruits and vegetables to the entire community.

 “It’s important to not just go there and do service work. It’s important to make a sustainable difference that allows them (the community) to help themselves,” a Dallas service team member said.

 Thousands of miles north, the Detroit Hawkeye Service Team was braving the harsh Michigan cold at an urban as they planted kale and shoveled snow for four hours in strong winds and freezing temperatures following a huge snowstorm.

 “It was freezing, definitely the coldest day of the trip,” Charity Ratcliff, one of the team members of the Detroit team, said. “As soon as they opened the doors to the inside everyone was racing to get in.”

They spent two days working with the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative to help maintain two working urban farms in the North End district of central Detroit. The larger farm fills three acres of land in downtown Detroit, calling itself “America’s First Sustainable Urban Agrihood.”  In Livonia, the team helped plant kale for the townsfolk in a much smaller urban farm. 

It was not easy for the team to trade their warm beds for a sleeping bag on the local church floor, but they quickly learned to adjust. 

“We all had to adjust, but it was fun,” Ratcliff said.

 That fun will pay off. Thanks to their efforts, people experiencing homelessness, and other impoverished citizens, will continue to have full access to a variety of healthy fruits and vegetables.

 “Everyone should go on at least one alternative spring break,” Ratcliff said. “It doesn’t take much to make change. All you need are people who are dedicated and caring.”

 For more information about Hawkeye Service Teams, see https://csil.uiowa.edu/leadership/alternative-spring-break-trips/ and this Iowa Now article at https://now.uiowa.edu/2017/03/ui-students-serve-others-over-spring-break

By Andrew Potocki

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