Honors students volunteer at farm and food bank for World Food Problems course

Twenty-five Penn State Brandywine freshman honors students recently volunteered their time at Pete's Produce Farm in West Chester and the Chester County Food Bank in Exton as part of their World Food Problems course taught by Pauline Guerin, associate professor of psychology and program coordinator.  

"This introductory course for freshman honors students provides them with a taste of the wide range of experiences and knowledge that they will gain in their undergraduate education at Brandywine," Guerin said. "The students are studying many different majors and they see how they can all work together. They learn one broad topic—food—but from many different perspectives, from engineering and technology to social sciences and community development. And they learn through the classroom, online and community engagement and how to connect it all."

The course allowed the students to better understand the unique farming operation created by the Chester County Food Bank. According to the food bank's website, more than 25,000 pounds of mixed vegetables are grown at Springton Manor Farm, Pete's Produce Farm and other area farms. These vegetables are then sent to the food bank for distribution to those in need of food assistance in Chester County.

Half of the students volunteered at Pete's Produce Farm to pick peppers, tomatoes and squash, prune plants and pack the vegetables to be delivered to the food bank, while the other half bagged rice to be distributed at the food bank.

Students were able to directly link the experiences they had either on the farm or at the food bank with their class. In a debriefing after the trip, they evaluated the day.

"I couldn't believe there were 13 of us working at the farm for hours, and just how little [food] we actually picked," Tim McDonnell said. "It's amazing the labor you have to put into a project like this."

The students also discussed the culture of food in today's society. 

"When we picked the tomatoes we only kept the 'pretty' food— the tomatoes without the bruises," Amal Dahleh said. "Those were the ones sent to the food bank." 

Students continued to discuss how consumers need to change their expectations of how food should look and be packaged in order to decrease the labor and purchasing costs surrounding food production.

Guerin also helped the students realize the problem-solving and teamwork skills necessary to make it a successful day on the farm or at the food bank.

"For example, the tie machine to close the bags of rice at the food bank stopped working and broke multiple times," Guerin said. "So together we needed to find another way to tie the bags so we did not slow down production."

The honors class will resume mostly online for the rest of the semester. Students were encouraged to volunteer at the food bank and farm in the future. The class will also participate in the public viewing of the documentary "Urban Roots," at Brandywine this semester.