Herb planting inspires personal and social change for environmental studies major

Kaitlyn Welzen ’15 of Twin Lakes, Wisconsin, has won the National Sodexo Service Award. Welzen is an environmental studies and Spanish major and a sustainability intern for Sodexo. She led the effort to construct and implement a campus hoop house on lower campus. Herbs and greens from the hoop house are served in the dining room during Local Greens Tuesdays.

Growing herbs has reaped benefits for Welzen. She grows herbs both in her campus apartment and in the hoop house greenhouse on lower campus. As an environmental studies and Spanish major, she sees the personal and social implications of growing herbs. The practice “connects society as a whole to our agricultural roots,” she says. “By planting, you begin to understand the life cycle of plants and the world around you.”

Welzen says growing plants take a little personal responsibility, and adds jokingly, “It’s similar to taking care of a goldfish. It just needs a few things.” Those include dirt, sun, water, grooming, cleaning and, perhaps most importantly, time.

“When working with herbs, they don’t yell at you,” she says, “so a balanced schedule is important for watering and trimming. ‘Reap what you sow’ isn’t always true with plants,” she says. “A plant could die without you knowing, or you can do minimal TLC, and nature will do the work for you.”

But this investment of resources still is important to receive the benefits later on. “I still tend to get more (harvest) when I work hard and spend time on it,” she says.

Such inquiry helps Welzen explore questions in her courses, as well as how these sustainable endeavors impact her own life and others’. “Plants are good for people,” Welzen says, “but few people have a direct connection to herbs.”

Her eating habits have changed, as well as those of her roommate, Sam Klein ’15. “Sam likes to use basil when making vegetable dishes, and I’ll use parsley for paella,” a traditional Spanish dish that typically features shrimp, meat and rice. She was inspired to make that dish after she and Klein spent a semester in Alicante, Spain.

By implementing herbs in one’s diet, America’s social attitude about sustainable initiatives may change, Welzen says. She says our patterns of consumption — such as individually packaged candies and cosmetics — create a “disposable culture.” She sees planting herbs as an external reminder to buy less and use more self-provided foods.

Welzen led the effort to construct and implement a campus hoop house. Herbs from the hoop house include basil, cilantro, fennel, mint, sage, thyme, rosemary and chives, and many of these herbs are offered at the Commons as seasoning.

Pesto and other dishes that utilize these herbs will hopefully become Commons’ staples.

“I think it’s important not only to support local growers when possible, but it’s more satisfying when we can grow them right here on campus,” says Jack Talbot, Sodexo supervisor. “It becomes an ecological classroom, not only for students but also for our culinary team. We all are farmers! Growing it here reduces cost. It reduces fossil fuels in that we are not having produce trucks coming to bring our local needs. There is pride in this effort. There is something ‘deep’ that goes on within a person when you get your hands deep in the soil and reap what we sow.”

Welzen was introduced to concepts of becoming more consciously aware of eating patterns and people becoming more aware of their role in creating a greener society in an introductory environmental studies course. She hopes her personal and professional endeavors inspire people to change their own habits and make small changes, like eating local to minimizing transportation costs and fuels.

“Changes are as simple as taking care of a plant yourself,” she says. “I want to connect people to the plants themselves.”

Kaylie Longley ’15
Saint Francis, Wisconsin

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