It may not be surprising that the idea of sustainable living has extended to the Fox Valley, but what might be surprising is that it’s an idea being carried out on a college campus. Sustainable Lawrence University Gardens, or SLUG, is a nonprofit organization entirely run by students whose mission is to promote sustainable agriculture and living.
Cate Bentley, a junior at Lawrence University, co-manages the garden, along with classmate Abigail Hindson, also a junior. The two are responsible for everything from managing volunteers and doing community outreach, to planning and executing planting and harvesting seasons. “It’s pretty much a full-time job,” Bentley says.
That is, a full-time job essentially running a business. SLUG sells its produce to Lawrence’s food provider Bon Appetit, student-run co-ops and individuals in the greater Fox Valley community. The profits are then used to buy seeds for the next year’s planting season. This is a system that is somewhat unique to Lawrence, Bentley explains. “When we attend farming conferences throughout the state, other schools are surprised to hear that we have a business relationship with our food providers. For example, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the garden is run by faculty with the help of student volunteers. At the end of the harvesting season, students can come pick free vegetable handouts. “I think the reason for the difference is that we are entirely student-run and operate on a smaller scale,” Bentley adds.
SLUG also manages a student co-op that, although financially separate from the garden, fosters meaningful involvement with the organization and promotes its mission statement. “SLUG’s mission statement is to provide a working representation of sustainable agriculture, as well as maintain the lifestyle of what sustainable agriculture stands for,” Bentley explains. “I think when you are able to abide by your club’s mission statement through food, that brings people together and helps people understand what you believe in, and how simply it can be accomplished.” The co-op’s mission is to eat entirely locally, meaning that its food comes from the garden and area farms.
Through volunteering in the garden and taking part in co-op meals, Lawrence students have the opportunity to learn what it means to live sustainably, and how easy it is to do it. “It’s a good way to incubate what we’re trying to do on a larger scale in a smaller-scale setting,” Bentley says. “We try to get as many people exposed to this as we can. This lifestyle is easy and anyone can do it, and it’s a simple way to better the world around you and help your body as well.”
And, it truly is a lifestyle for, well, life. After leaving Lawrence, SLUG alumni continue to impact the world around them. “A lot of SLUG alums helped to start Riverview Gardens in Appleton, and this past year, moved on to start their own farm,” Bentley says.
Anyone can take part in SLUG’s mission to better the Fox Valley community – whether it’s by choosing to buy food locally, or deciding to compost in your own home. “In addition to getting compost from places on campus and local coffee shops, we have a compost bin in the garden that anyone can bring compost to,” Bentley says. “So, bring down any non-cooked, non-processed food, and we’ll compost it for you.”