Growing Intentions: With the Land and On Campus

Intention looks different for everyone and works best in a consistent cycle of reflection and application. What does it look like to think about intention and reevaluate what that looks like each time we reach a new threshold in a college career?

By Justina Thompson — January 4, 2023


Growing Intentions: With the Land and On Campus

As we settle into the Winter season, farmers and growers are taking time to reflect on their past seasons of the year and beginning to plan for the seasons forward! There's a lot of love and intention that goes into preparing for an upcoming season in the growing spaces I'm familiar with. It's always felt very similar to the intention I wanted to put into planning my college experience rather than getting lost in the thrill semester by semester. What does it look like to think about intention and reevaluate what that looks like each time we reach a new threshold in a college career? How can this question tie back to the processes required to start growing food? Let's explore this together.

Where To Grow

The first step to growing food for yourself or the community is finding the right land. The right land has multiple components, including soil type, soil nutrient density, potential contaminants in the soil, the amount of sunlight the parcel of land gets, the access it has to a water source, and drainage ability, among many other things! Growers may visit a space multiple times with different measurement tools to assess if it is right for them. Aside from a measuring tape to determine the total growing space, another common tool used in urban growing spaces is called an XRF machine. XRF stands for X-Ray Fluorescence, as this is the technology used to identify metals in the soil and their respective concentrations. This primarily identifies potential soil contaminants and clears the soil for healthy growing!

If you consider yourself the grower (of your own body and mind), choosing the right land to grow food on is just like choosing the right college to attend! Geographical location, sports, extracurricular offerings, degree options, support structures, and student body size are all important factors to consider when deciding where to go to school. Sometimes, catching the campus vibe is only possible once you step foot on site. If that is an option, what tools might you use to assess once you reach the point? Talking to people in the same major or club I wanted to explore was the right tool to understand the varying aspects of college life.

How to Grow

How someone grows food is shaped by their land, surrounding environmental factors, financial limitations, and general exposure to different options! Organic and non-genetically modified growing methods are talked about more commonly because of the increased capital margin of their end products. Organic growing utilizes no man-made pesticides or fertilizers to support growth. Non-genetically modified growing is most often determined by the type of seed planted and its source of origin. However, seeds travel and plant themselves through wind, rain, and animal play. What happens if a grower wants non-genetically modified seeds, but the neighbor only grows with GMO seeds? The chances for cross-pollination are very high. Yet, this is ultimately a factor out of the initial grower's control unless they decide to change location. This is not unlike choosing a field of study in school!

Folks are drawn to majors for various reasons, whether it just be interest, an acquired skill set applied in a new way, or the search for a new set of skills that will open the door to new opportunities. Whichever connection you have to your planned field of study, what is the intention behind your choice? Having an answer to this question is helpful through the journey that is higher education, especially during the lower points. In any and every new space and endear you walk into, remembering your WHY will ground you and offer frameworks for tangible methods of support. For example, if the goal is to soak up as much knowledge as possible, there should be a tool for recollection or documentation of all this knowledge. If the goal is networking, there should be a tool for making new connections and maintaining them once established-a LinkedIn is a great way to do this!

For first-generation students going to school as the first in their family to be able to do so; for the students pursuing higher education to provide for a family; for the students intentionally inserting themselves into academic fields and conversations where they have little to no representation—you are seen, and your journey is valid. There are farms dedicated to growing culturally-relevant seeds for saving and distribution so that the stories of these seeds and the foods they produce are not lost as time progresses. Be the seed that carries the story.

On the note of external factors that growers themselves can't control, all majors have some required courses, academic advisors are often assigned without room for change. If the professor says there's no curve on the tests, all the students must make it work! While students can't control all the factors that will shape their academic career, intention in choice at the front end and intention in reactions and adaptability can inspire innovation beyond the immediately perceived possibility.

What to Grow

Deciding what to grow for the season has the potential to be one of the most exciting and overwhelming processes of the pre-season, just like choosing classes for the next semester! Crop planning is the puzzling together of previous growing seasons, climate patterns for the determined growing zone, seed availability, and community demand.

The growing spaces I'm most familiar with grow directly to feed the community, which actively shapes crops at the farm or garden. Larger agricultural producers may not place t he same weight on this aspect. Crop planning can look as specific: "In the Winter, Bed 3 will grow Green Glaze Collards planted 18 inches apart with perennial borage at the ends of the beds."

In that sentence alone, season, bed, crop, crop variety, spacing, and co-planting/pollinator support are each covered. Multiply that by four seasons and twenty beds... and now you understand why it can be such an extensive process!

Even the term 'puzzling together' takes me right back to course registration with three different tabs open. In those moments, I tried to figure out how to take twenty credits without 8 AM classes and still have time for on-campus jobs and whatever extracurricular activity I decided to pick up for the semester. With intention and an incredible support system, I could choose classes that didn't overwhelm me with coursework and complemented each other in the content they covered. This forward intention can provide relief in the thick of the semester.

A Closing Note on Intention

Intention looks different for everyone and works best in a consistent cycle of reflection and application. Intentions can be reset at any point of misalignment in the semester (or life) and are meant to be evolutionary! What does it look like to set a new intention for the upcoming semester? Share with a friend and explore a new way of grounding together.

Checkout Truelove Seeds to learn more about seed keeping and preserving the stories of seeds: https://trueloveseeds.com/pages/community-work

Justina Thompson

Justina Thompson

Justina "Farmer J" Thompson is the Farm Education and Volunteer Manager at Urban Creators, Philadelphia, PA. Justina intentionally attended school in Philadelphia so she could “connect her passion and experience to the ongoing environmental justice work in the area.” As a speaker, educational curriculum designer, program leader, and community organizer, Justina possesses extensive knowledge on urban farming inspired to work in the field of environmental justice from a young age.
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