Gardening with Alli Langley, Botanic Garden Intern

1 Jul

My name is Alli, and I’m a rising junior at Smith College. I’m double majoring in Sociology and the Study of Women and Gender, and this summer I’m interning at the Smith Botanic Gardens. As a BG intern, I have an independent project that I’ll spend roughly 120 hours working on this summer; mine is, in short, the Smith Community Garden. I’m the summer manager of the garden, and will also be producing a report that surveys community gardens at both a variety of similar institutions and at Smith, analyzing the varying roles they play within their respective institutions and the surrounding community. I’ll admit that, at first, my internship seems to come entirely out of left field. What could a social science major, of all people, be doing spending their summer in a garden?

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It’s kind of a long story, but suffice it to say that I grew up gardening. My grandparents’ own a farm where I spent the majority of my weekends and summers as a kid, whether I was hoeing and weeding in the two-acre vegetable garden or canning and preserving the produce.When I first came to Smith I did not, however, have any intention of pursuing farming or horticulture further than the family farm and greenhouse business; I wasn’t even involved in the Community Garden until my second year here. But studying sociology and the study of women and gender radically changed my mind. Among other things, both soc and SWG (as we refer to the study of women and gender at Smith) necessitate studying power and privilege, examining and challenging oppression and inequality at both an individual and societal level.  It can get overwhelming at times—after all, what can I do to challenge oppression beyond a very basic, personal level? For me, the answer lies at least in part in community gardening.

One of the focuses of my studies is the impact of neoliberalism and globalization. Agriculture and food is just one of the many areas where you can see quite clearly this impact, from the farmer suicides in India to the so-called “obesity” epidemic in the US, which results at least in part from lack of access to healthy food and fresh produce among the majority of low income families. Community gardening is, I believe, a way to actively challenge the effects of neoliberalism and globalization. It is a way to begin challenging the current food system and to regain agency, to provide people from all walks with control over their access to food—which is a basic human right. It is a way to share knowledge and a skill-base among a community, to teach and educate and to gain skills, all while challenging the status quo. There is an increasingly large movement within the US that propels this “food justice” agenda, and I want to be a part of it. College community gardens are a small step toward this goal—by educating students, staff, and faculty, creating visibility, and  helping push our respective institutions towards sourcing local food in dining halls and other college venues, we’re working, at least in part, to further the goals of the food justice movement. And this is why I, a sociology and Study of Women and Gender major, am spending my summer pulling weeds and suckering tomatoes: to learn and refine the skills and knowledge that will help me  pursue local and urban agriculture more seriously and to work, in the small ways I can, for social justice and a more sustainable, livable world.

I’ll be writing periodically throughout the summer about my adventures in the Smith Community Garden: my musing as I weed, and what I’m learning from assembling this survey and report of college community gardens. Expect to hear more…


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