Students spend summer at Cleveland farms to promote sustainability, nutrition

Summer jobs for college students often take place in retail stores, business offices or city pools. But two Case Western Reserve University students are spending their summer farming in the city to promote sustainable, healthy eating in Cleveland.

Rising senior nursing major Clare Fagerholm and rising junior Shannon Corlett, a nutrition and pre-med student, applied for the eight-week AmeriCorps VISTA Ohio Campus Compact Summer Associate Program through the Center for Civic Engagement and Learning. In the program, they spend five days per week dividing their time among Cleveland Crops, Green Corps and the University Farm Food Program and earn a small stipend for their work.

At Cleveland Crops, the agricultural training and employment venture of the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities, they help employees with disabilities plant, harvest and sell produce to the surrounding community while building and maintaining relationships with people and organizations in the area.

“This part of the program places me in a leadership position where I work with an amazing group of men who all face developmental challenges,” said Corlett, who is involved with day-to-day farm activities and introduced a marketing department to the program. “The ultimate goal for my summer here is to create a specialized area that will allow community members and business owners to come to the farm and purchase the locally grown and nutritionally healthy products that are being produced.”

At Green Corps, a Cleveland Botanical Garden program that operates six “learning farms” on previously vacant land throughout the city, Cleveland teens ages 14-18 to learn about sustainable agriculture as they seed, harvest and sell produce in their neighborhoods.

There, Fagerholm is “researching ways to increase accessibility to this produce by searching for community partners, identifying all other grocery and corner stores offering produce and creating a produce price comparison chart,” she explained.

Finally, at the University Farm, Fagerholm and Corlett assist with the daily tasks around the farm to allow Bon Appetit to provide fresh meals to students on campus.

The focus on nutrition is important to both students, for their professional futures and also the future of Cleveland and its residents.

As a nutrition major, Corlett is gaining real-world experience for her major while learning more about Cleveland’s approach to sustainability, she said.

For Fagerholm, her interest in the program grew out of her work in the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, in which she and her peers researched the health of students in Cleveland Public Schools—and their lack of healthy food options.

“Fast food and gas stations were plentiful; grocery stores with a variety of fruits and vegetables were scarce,” she said. “Few children reported eating at least two vegetables daily, and many had never had never eaten foods such as celery or squash. We conducted health screenings on over 500 children in 13 public schools, and the heartbreaking number of children with a body mass index in the 95th percentile sparked my interest in finding solutions.”

By teaching Cleveland residents not only how to eat healthier but also how to grow and sell fruits and vegetables, Fagerholm and Corlett are certainly on the right track.

For more information on the VISTA program, visit the Center for Civic Engagement and Learning’s information page.