Plump, red cherry tomatoes plucked from that sweet smelling bush are absolutely the perfect afternoon snack. Bright orange carrots pulled straight from the ground are simply more delicious than the slimy, shaved away “baby” carrots you find in plastic bags in supermarkets. Crunchy, palm-sized cucumbers still covered with tiny spines are the definition of refreshment on a hot day. Those who know the joys of gardening and fresh, local food won’t hesitate to agree with me. If you haven’t experienced these little wonders, I want to be with you when you do.
You see, these seemingly unique experiences don’t have to be all that unique. You have access to local food every day, if you know how to look for it — even as a transportation-less undergraduate. It’s true, the wider South Bend community is home to lots of organizations and opportunities for you to experience local food in all its glory. These are wonderful places to volunteer and make smart, healthy decisions as a consumer in your local economy. I look forward to telling you all about them and why they’re great as the semester goes on. But you know what’s even more local than South Bend? The University of Notre Dame. Your residence hall. Your dorm room.
I know what you’re thinking: “Are you crazy? I can’t find any local food in my dorm room, except if you consider the stinkbug I killed earlier today ‘food.’” No no, please put that bug down and listen. You can find local food in your room if you grow it there. Who says we can’t grow food in our rooms? Indoor gardening is a practical skill to pick up and tiny way to break from the industrial food regime engrained in our culture. Plus, growing plants in your dorm room can help purify your air, create a talking piece for your guests and provide you with a little fresh food year round.
I began seriously researching indoor gardening techniques this summer and actually started a garden in my dorm room this fall. The project initially seemed overwhelming, and I’m finding there’s a steep learning curve when it comes to growing food from seed in a small space. To start, I purchased a standard 24-inch shop light and some organic flowers, basil, carrot, beet and lettuce seeds online. For containers, I’m using some old pots from Good Will, some big yogurt containers with holes poked in the bottom and four bed risers converted to planters by drilling holes in the tops and inverting them. Obtaining soil was the trickiest part of the process: who knew organic seed-start soil was virtually impossible to find in major home improvement stores? Luckily, there are tons of little garden shops around South Bend that carry all sorts of organic soil. After collecting all these items, I set up my little seed-starting space in an extra closet in my dorm room. Pro-tip number one: handling soil over carpet is a terrible idea. Pro-tip number two: trying to vacuum wet soil out of carpet is also a terrible idea. Despite these bumps, my seeds have germinated, I’m in the process of transplanting them to larger containers and am anxiously awaiting my first “harvest” in a few weeks. I’ll try even more vegetables and herbs as the year goes on and will report how it goes on the website below.
But why would someone go through the effort of gardening in their dorm room? Why buy seemingly more expensive, dirty food from a farmers market when Martin’s is so close and carries big, shiny, cheap produce? Is local food that important? That will be the topic of subsequent articles I’ll publish here. Local food has far-reaching, long term benefits for your health, your bank account and the earth. Even Pope Francis has written about the social justice and environmental impacts of local food systems. I hope you join me this year to see why eating local is important and applies to your life. If nothing else, I hope you’ll have the opportunity to try some super-local food from an earth-loving RA’s closet.
Originally published in The Observer, September 26th 2017