Clemson University faculty, staff and students recently donated time and expertise to help beautify and make functional a community garden at the Blue Ridge Community Center in Seneca. The faculty and students represented multiple colleges, University divisions and programs, and the work is the latest development in an ongoing partnership between Clemson and the community center.
According to Brooke Brittain, a registered dietitian who serves as program manager of public health nutrition and outreach for Clemson Rural Health, the desire for a community garden at the non-profit revealed itself through participant feedback obtained during the delivery of food security programs in summer 2021.
Brittain said the recent workday at the center was a concrete step in a long partnership that will bring fresh food to community members, bringing the center closer to becoming a food share site that can distribute fresh local food regularly to people who too often go without. She said it was also an example of cross-university collaboration and student involvement in Clemson University’s larger land-grant mission.
“It takes everyone working together, making connections and building relationships to make something like that happen, so it was really encouraging to see so many different people representing different parts of the University there that day putting the work in,” Brittain said. “We were all dirty and worn out by the end of the day, and looking back at the progress made in a matter of hours by so many was really exciting.”
Faculty and student volunteers cleared a large amount of weeds, brush and debris while making way for planter boxes, fresh mulch and cover crops that will improve soil health and better prepare the area for planting in the coming months.
Brittain, a project manager in the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences, co-led the effort at the center with LayLa Burgess, an Oconee County-based Clemson Extension agent whose expertise was put to use cleaning up and preparing soil in the courtyard for planting.
Marjorie Campbell, director of organizational effectiveness for Clemson Computing and Information Technology and project manager for the Woodland Cemetery Historic Preservation Project, and Cara Snider, assistant director for leadership education and development for Clemson University Student Affairs, were also involved in coordinating Clemson participants on the day, as it was part of a larger Clemson University Service Day.
Harrison Pinckney and Corliss Outley of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management were also on hand to aid in the cleanup. Pinckney hopes to bring his youth development curriculum, I Am a Scientist, to the center to help foster STEM identity in Black youth.
Rhondda Thomas, Calhoun Lemon Professor of Literature in the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities and coordinator of Research and Community Engagement for the Woodland Cemetery Historic Preservation Project, was instrumental in securing student involvement in the workday. She had previously worked with Helen Rosemond-Saunders, a board member at the Blue Ridge Community Center, to digitize family memorabilia as part of her documentation of the history of the Black citizens of Seneca.
This effort was part of Thomas’ long-term project, “Call My Name: African Americans in Clemson University History,” which documents the lives of the enslaved persons, sharecroppers and prison laborers who helped build the University, and the Woodland Cemetery Project. Those projects do not just dive into history, they also pay homage to the descendants of those who helped create the Clemson community by providing resources to local communities where many of those descendants currently live.
“If we cleaned up a cemetery and built a memorial through the Woodland Cemetery Preservation Project but then ignored the families who are part of our community now, we wouldn’t be fulfilling our land-grant mission,” Thomas said. “It is our duty to support organizations such as the Blue Ridge Community Center that are directly serving those descendants today. If the site of a community garden that will have such an enormous local impact needs some ‘TLC,’ then Clemson should help to provide it.”
Rosemond-Saunders has dedicated her time to attracting quality community programs to the center. Along the way, she has cultivated relationships with Clemson faculty and staff who want to help the center, such as Brittain and Thomas, and said it was heartening to see such a clear example of that help in action during the recent workday.
“I am thankful to everyone who came out to help, and I am so happy with the progress that has been made in a single day,” Rosemond-Saunders said. “I look forward to seeing what this part of the center will look like once crops start coming in.”
In addition to the individuals listed, multiple individuals including Jacob Kiser, Dave Vandeventer and Tommy Fallow from Clemson University Facilities donated time, tools, gardening supplies and other materials to the project.
Clemson Rural Health is part of the University’s College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences (CBSHS). Established in July 2016, CBSHS is a 21st-century, land-grant college that combines work in seven disciplines – Communication; Nursing; Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management; Political Science; Psychology; Public Health Sciences; and Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice – to further its mission in “building people and communities” in South Carolina and beyond.
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