When Farming 4 Hunger broke ground on a garden on the front lawn of the College of Southern Maryland’s Prince Frederick campus in July, the goal wasn’t just to help feed the hungry.

“Food is the vessel, but it is also an opportunity to grow lives and grow community,” Farming 4 Hunger Executive Director and President Bernie Fowler Jr. said following a ribbon cutting ceremony on Oct. 21. “The garden represents an opportunity, a safe place, a place of education where people can care and people can serve. It will develop a spirit.”

The garden is 100 feet by 120 feet and features 19 raised planters and a pair of 14-by-50-foot caterpillar-style greenhouses.

“Having organizations like Farming 4 Hunger is a great relief for people in the community who may be struggling to put food on their table,” said CSM Prince Frederick Student Government Association President Rhey Mesowski. “We are excited about the possibilities of what a Farming 4 Hunger/CSM partnership can accomplish in the future.”

CSM President Maureen Murphy said the two organizations are “coming together for a single purpose.”

A 3-square-foot portion of the garden will serve as an outdoor classroom complete with benches and picnic tables.

A news release said the new garden will provide a “planting of the seed to harvest experience to provide food for the region’s hungry and teachable moments in self-sufficiency, team building, service leadership, volunteerism and finding purpose.”

“It’s not just about growing food, it’s about changing people’s lives and the impact it can have when people get their hands in the dirt and make something grow from a little seed and produce food,” CSM Board Trustee Chair Jay Webster said. “The other benefit of that is students come here to community college to get their basics might not know what they want, and there’s so much opportunity in agriculture. ... and hopefully this project will open up people’s eyes to get a good career going.”

The garden is currently growing kale, collards, turnips, beets, onions and carrots and was scheduled to be harvested earlier this week.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for the college and for our students and community,” CSM President of Operations and Planning Bill Comey said. “We can provide opportunities for those who might otherwise not have gone to college or pursued post-secondary education. And just to have this garden here at the college, what a learning laboratory.”

“There are no negatives to this garden,” Calvert Commissioner President Earl F. “Buddy” Hance (R) said. “It’s such an opportunity for students and for feeding the hungry. It will change people’s lives.”

In the spring the garden will be used to grow potatoes, squash, zucchini, lettuces, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.

“I’m pretty excited and I think it’s nice that people can see the fruits of all their work,” said Murphy, who added the food will come in handy for the community and the students. “Unfortunately, college students across the country are struggling. We have seen before the pandemic that over 30% of college students reported that they were food insecure, that they really did not know where their next meal was coming from more than twice a month.”

In 2017, College of Southern Maryland started installing micro food pantries, called Hawk Feeders, at its campuses. There are now five feeders at the four campuses.

During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Fowler singled out six incarcerated individuals who helped build the garden.

“These men have come out and embraced the spirit of what farming is all about and how proud are they after all the sweat and the time they put in building this?” Fowler asked. “I tell these guys all the time they have a Ph.D. in corrections, they have a Ph.D. in street and in life. They have value that they can now teach others about not making the same mistakes as others.”

The project started with a phone call last fall and was soon followed by an official memorandum of understanding.

“It’s probably one of the better projects where I can’t say there was a hard part. Everyone really stepped up to the plate and did what they needed to from every level,” Fowler said. “I don’t want to say it was flawless, but it was pretty seamless.”

One of the goals for CSM and Farming 4 Hunger is to create a model with the demonstration garden for other colleges across the state and country to emulate.

“I’m extremely grateful to see something small and micro has the potential to be something macro or larger,” Fowler Jr. said as he scanned the garden. “And if we create more micro spaces, that’s really how we start to impact change and effect through food and security.”

Twitter: @MichaelSoMdNews

Twitter: @MichaelSoMdNews