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Schreyer Pocket Garden is growing in providing food and experience to Penn State students

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Born from boxing lingo, the phrase “punching above their weight” has evolved to describe when someone or something performs beyond expectations. Two years into its existence, the Schreyer Pocket Garden can be safely positioned within that category.

Established in 2022, the garden is located in the courtyard outside Simmons Hall overlooking McKean Road and features four raised garden beds growing a variety of fruits and vegetables. Along with the crops, the Schreyer Pocket Garden has helped a community of volunteers and organizations thrive as they work collectively to help University Park students in need by offering low-cost or free produce. Their efforts have resulted in an annual average of more than 200 pounds of products given away to nonprofits on campus and in State College.

Vancie Peacock, a Schreyer Scholar and agricultural engineering major who will graduate in spring 2024, proposed the pocket garden during her second year on campus. She wanted the garden to be a place for student collaboration, focused on giving back through volunteerism and donating all produce to help others in need.

Peacock collaborated with the Honors College, the Dr. Keiko Miwa Ross Student Farm, Penn State’s Office of Physical Plant and other students to bring her vision to life. Thanks to the solid foundation on which it was built, the pocket garden will continue to flourish under new leadership as Peacock leaves Penn State.

Anna Gerstner, a third-year food science major, has been managing the garden under Peacock’s direction for the past year and will continue in this role until her graduation in spring 2025. With an interest in gardening and cultivating sustainable methods of growing food, Peacock knew Gerstner would do that. are perfectly suited to take on the role.

“I felt like Anna really understood the mission of the Schreyer Pocket Garden – that it exists not only to provide students with affordable produce, but also to educate, empower and inspire students to grow their own food ,” says Peacock.

By planting, growing and harvesting the crops from the pocket garden, the volunteers who work with Peacock and Gerstner learn valuable life lessons. However, nothing is more valuable than understanding how they can strengthen their community by being charitable with their time and skills.

Food insecurity is often an issue that goes unnoticed in everyday life, and its impact on students can be quite damaging. A recent Penn State Student Affairs survey of food and housing needs found that thousands of students across all college campuses are struggling to meet these basic needs. More than 14% of respondents said they didn’t eat for 24 hours during a 30-day period because they couldn’t afford food. Additionally, 14.6% said it was difficult to “secure enough food for each day.”

However, Gerstner explains that food insecurity is a multi-faceted issue that can impact a student’s health and well-being.

“(It) is more than not having enough food; it’s about not having access to healthy food. In conversations I have been involved in, students have shared that they live downtown without a car and have to rely on someone else to drive them or take the bus to North Atherton (Street) to get food (from a grocery store). .” she said. “The alternative is to go to the shops in the city center, where prices are higher. This is how many students struggle with food insecurity, and why it is not as recognizable on college campuses.”

Since its inception, the Schreyer Pocket Garden has partnered with the Lion’s Pantry – a student-run organization that provides free food and other necessities to Penn Staters – to get fresh, easy-to-prepare produce into the hands of students.

Gerstner explained that a major benefit of working with the Lion’s Pantry is that it fosters a sense of community to alleviate students’ concerns about needing help to meet their food needs. Fruits and vegetables from the small garden have made the pantry an even more inviting place for students.

“This year we donated £219 worth of produce, and the Lion’s Pantry was one of our main outlets. We have heard from the pantry that our products are selling out quickly, and students are really taking it up, creating demand for more,” Gerstner said. “Now I know it makes a difference and that some students really enjoy what we donate.”

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