Creating A Sustainable Community: The Markhart Scholars Program

October 12, 2015

As Moriah Maternoski (B.S. Food Systems ‘16) started to talk about all the work that she had to do as a Markhart Scholar last spring — scheduling, emailing, grant writing, evaluating and more — her eyes lit up. She’s not shy about admitting that the last semester was a lot of hard work, but the experience has had a lasting positive impact on her. It’s a feeling shared with the other eight students involved in the inaugural year of the Markhart Scholars Program, a competitive scholarship opportunity that enables students to build a network around community engagement, food security, and sustainable agriculture.

The scholarship, created in memory of Professor Albert “Bud” Markhart, was originally distributed like most scholarships: students applied and the ones selected had the money deposited into their student account. However, it needed something more to continue to spread the impact that Bud had on the sustainable agriculture community. That led Julie Grossman and Mary Rogers, assistant professors in the department, to modify the scholarship to include a service-learning course. Scholars apply and are selected in the fall; then they take the service-learning course in the spring. In the course, they choose a community partner to work with to develop a project that is meaningful to them and the organization.

Projects developed in the spring of 2015 ranged greatly in style and scope. Moriah’s project worked with Urban Roots to schedule five cooking classes offered this summer as part of a new program that is led by local chefs and aimed at teens. Other projects involved surveying community members to see how the organization can better serve them, improving storage practices at a food shelf, creating marketing materials that detail the history of the organization, and more. At the end of the semester, each scholar described their project to their peers and representatives of the community organizations involved.

The Markhart Scholars program is open to any full-time CFANS undergraduate who shows academic potential, but to be selected an applicant needs to have a little something more.

“They had somehow shown in their past that they had done some volunteering or made some effort to become engaged in community-based food production,” explained last year’s program lead Julie Grossman. “We defined that broadly so that any student in CFANS interested in the topic was encouraged to apply, and not just Food Systems majors.”

When asked about who Moriah would suggest become a Markhart scholar, she didn’t even mention majors. “People from any background interested in food should apply to the program. The discussions have been eye opening.” The 2015 scholars included students majoring in food systems, plant science, environmental science, and horticulture. Program lead for 2016 Mary Rogers hopes to keep the scholars diverse this year as well.

In her final presentation, Markhart Scholar Yordanose Solomone (Environmental Science ‘17) echoed Moriah's sentiment about the class. "I learned about a lot more than just food, which I didn’t think would happen. I realized that there’s so much to food security. Layers like race, family size, social class, residency status, and more. This class has expanded how I think about food and opened horizons."

Organizations interested in becoming a community partner or individuals interested in supporting the Markhart Scholars Program can contact Mary Rogers at [email protected].