Through the Oregon Food Bank’s Seed to Supper workshops, volunteers help low-income people learn to grow their own fruits and vegetables to save money and improve nutrition. As always, says Rebecca Siplak of the food bank, “we wanted to know if we were actually benefitting people, and not just making ourselves feel good.”
PSU student Denissia Withers, supervised by biology professor Lisa Weasel, stepped in to find the answer. Withers began the project as an undergraduate through her participation in the McNair Scholar Program, and then continued her studies in the Leadership for Sustainability Education graduate program. This allowed her to conduct extensive surveys and interviews of Seed to Supper participants.
“Her help was invaluable,” Siplak says of Withers. “We got really robust information about how the program is improving people’s lives.”
“Community partners can do their own surveys,” professor Weasel notes, but Withers’ in-depth interviews “gave a much more nuanced view of the effectiveness of the program.” Withers found that the Seed to Supper program did lead to increased consumption of fresh foods and lower costs to obtain them. At the same time, there was still an urgent need for space. Weasel says that community garden programs can also empower low-income people as they build up collective expertise in growing food and running a shared garden. This can be especially important, Withers found, for multicultural communities that might otherwise be marginalized by a language barrier, for example.
“The Oregon Food Bank has always loved working with grad students,” says Siplak, “and I hope that other students will contact us.”