NYU Steinhardt News

Food Studies MA student Stephanie Michalak blogs about Sustainability in the Urban Environment course

by Stephanie Michalak
MA student in Food Studies

What do community gardens, trash removal facilities, farmers markets, and waterwheels all have in common? This is an easy question for most of us in food studies to answer, especially those concerned about food systems. Nonetheless, it is easier to connect these projects with one another when you actually step into their physical domain and interact with the people who are deeply tied to these ventures. Through Prof. Carolyn Dimitri's course, “Sustainability in the Urban Environment," our quirky group set out to explore a myriad of locations both here in New York City and in Baltimore over the span of two weekends. In New York, we visited the SIMS Recycling Facility, Randall's Island Urban Farm, Hattie Carthan Community Garden, and Rooftop Reds. Every location had a unique and sometimes very eccentric personality, but nonetheless, they all consider and attempt to tackle the question of how to positively impact the local community. Furthermore, these projects took precedence in creating specific programs where they could instill their knowledge, passions, and values onto others.

Similarly, we experienced this same zeal for local neighborhoods in Baltimore as we toured sites like the Whitelock Community Garden, Big City Farms, and the Healthy Harbor Initiative. Additionally, we had the chance to visit the USDA Farming Systems Project in Beltsville, which was a little off the beaten path, but definitely worth the interesting dialogue that we shared with the soil scientist, Michel Cavigelli. The contrast between to the two cities’ overall personalities was something that I enjoyed because even though the question of sustainability came up everywhere, there was a diverse and interesting take on what it meant for each individual site.

The various discussions we encountered over the two weekends certainly intrigued each person in our class differently and I think that was one of the major appeals to this class. Whether your overall focus is on food cultures or on food systems, this course was a great opportunity to gain exposure to a broader sense of what individuals are currently doing in the realm of food studies. Perhaps it even jumpstarted new ideas for a few of my classmates as to what they may want to do post their degree. This class illustrated how some groups are tackling various challenges in creating and maintaining projects that effect their community and I can only hope it inspired others as much as it fueled me.