Isabella Le Bon 2/23/2017
DEK: AU senior says food tastes better when you grow it yourself.
Fresh organic food was the norm for most of Smriti Kumble’s life. She grew up watching her mother and grandmother garden. But it wasn’t until joining the American University Community Garden that she gained real experience with the soil.
“I mostly observed,” said Kumble. “I was pretty useless. I would mostly, like, laugh at worms.”
Kumble said healthy, fresh produce was always a priority in her house.
“I lived part of my life in India and when I was there everything was local,” said Kumble. “I got really interested in growing food ever since I was a little kid because my grandma has always grown vegetables at home and my mom continued that tradition.”
Today Kumble does more than observe. She is finishing her last year at AU where she studies environmental studies an political science.
Kumble discovered the community garden last year and has been an active member since.
“I actually got involved on accident,” said Kumble. “I met the girl who ran it before the current coordinators and she told me about the garden and I just showed up one Sunday and fell in love with it because gardening, especially when you’re in a very stressful college environment, is very relaxing. It’s a great way to get away from all the hectic schedules from your day.”
The garden is located next to the tennis courts on AU’s Tenleytown campus.
“Anyone can come in and take produce as long as they, you know, just like do a little work, maybe weed a little, something like that,” said Kumble. “But, it’s a very trusting kind of organization. But because we’re on university property we partner with departments and things like that and we work especially closely with AU facilities’ management team who are incredibly helpful. They help us build boxes and get seeds and stuff like that.”
Gardening involves a lot of work, but Kumble said it comes with rewards.
“Almost every time that I go there I come back with fresh food to take home,” said Kumble. “And it’s a great way to meet people that you otherwise wouldn’t have met.”
Some of the winter crops growing right now are arugula, radishes, carrots and potatoes. Soon AU Community gardeners will be planting new crops.
“In a couple of weeks, we’ll start seeds and people will just take those home and keep them on their like window sills or balconies until they’ve grown a little and once it’s warm outside we’ll plant them,” said Kumble. “And that’s when the garden days come in. So that’s when we like bring soil and compost, put them in the beds and actually plant all the little seedlings that we have. And then after that, it’s just weeding, maintaining and harvesting.”
For right now, the group has to concentrate on preparation such as rebuilding beds and creating vertical planters to make use of the little space they have.
“Every semester we want to grow more and more,” said Kumble. “And so, well, we have a limited amount of space, so we’re trying to be smart about it now.”
Along with maintaining the garden, AU Community Garden members are involved with the local food movement in the D.C. area.
“We actually recently did something off campus,” said Kumble. “Last weekend there was an urban farming, gardening kind of conference in Tenleytown and some of us from the garden went there, not to represent AU but just because we wanted to meet other avid gardeners in the city and it was amazing. They had great workshops and we all really enjoyed it.”
The organic and local food movement has been on the rise since the 1970s. Once considered the frontrunner on organic groceries, Whole Foods Market has seen its stock values drop this month as more grocery stores increase their selection of organic products. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, local food sales reached at least $12 billion in 214 and could reach $20 billion by 2019.
While many shoppers are buying more organic foods, some people are skeptical. Kumble said she recognizes that some organic food is in fact highly industrialized. However she said legitimate organic food has real benefits.
“If the food you are eating is actually organic, it is so much better for you because it’s free of pesticides and artificial hormones and things like that,” said Kumble.
It can be hard to decipher what is healthy from what is not. Groups like the AU Community Garden seek to bring people back to the real roots of food production for better understanding.
“We have completely separated ourselves from the production of food,” said Kumble. We go to the grocery store and we pick up whatever we want and we leave. And we never think about where it was produced, or how it was produced. So, if you grow it yourself you tend to have a lot more respect for it which I think is important.”