COFGA Cultivates Food Security, Farming Relationships

Sustainability. Food security. Most Colby students are familiar with these concepts. After all, Colby is renowned for its Environmental Policy and Science programs. Recently, the Oak Institute for International Human Rights hosted Will Allen, a world-traveling ambassador for food security and advocate for urban farming. Yet, do Colby students really know where the sustainably grown fruits and vegetables in their dining halls come from? Do students understand the processes that encompass organic farming? While food security can seem irrelevant and organically-grown foods commonplace in an affluent, socially aware campus like Colby, the actual act of preparing organic food often flies under the radar.

However, students in the Colby Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (COFGA) attempt to immerse themselves into the world of sustainable food development. According to their mission statement, COFGA seeks to “provide quality, organic produce to Colby’s dining halls, instill in our members the knowledge necessary to grow their own food, and inform the Colby community about issues surrounding food production.” COFGA accomplishes these goals by managing the organic garden and greenhouse on Runnals.

The Echo recently had the opportunity to interview Nick Pattison ’18, the president of COFGA, about his passion for sustainable crops and his work on organic farms both on campus and in the greater Waterville community. Pattison, a native of upstate New York, described his first encounter with organic farming.

“I grew up on a lot of land and my parents were always into living and exploring outside, and having their kids run free. Farming was and is a way for me to get outside and interact with nature. So really, it [farming] started out with this base of loving nature. I also came from a high school that had a garden club. I became really involved with gardening and sustainability there and spearheaded a bunch of related projects around my high school,” said Pattison.

Pattison’s background in gardening influenced his college application process, as he viewed the organic farms (or lack thereof) of every school he visited with a shrewd eye. Pattison’s acceptance into Colby’s Class of 2018 left him excited to immerse himself into COFGA’s work, and he remembers his first meeting with the association fondly.

“I remember the first day of garden club freshman year, it was in this big auditorium, and only 20 people showed up,” said Pattison. “But I ended up approaching some people afterwards and asked them what their spirit vegetable was, and soon had a relationship with some of the COFGA people. Really, it was these relationships that I developed through gardening that truly got me hooked on COFGA.”

However, Pattison’s gardening passion stems from his profound appreciation of the Earth. Pattison spoke of the physicality and spirituality of organic farming, and his role as COFGA’s president as an educator of prospective gardeners. For Pattison, the physical labor of gardening, the ability to create and experiment solely with his hands, is very appealing. But, Pattison believes that his connection with the ground is more than mere physical work.

“The spirituality part is… this connection you get when it’s just you and the ground,” said Pattison. “Its not really quite describable, but when I’m farming there is this energy and a sort of respect and peace for nature. And through that understanding, a pattern forms between you and the earth. You realize how you can fit into that pattern.”

Pattison’s admiration of nature is clearly fervent, a respect he attempts to impart on anyone he works with on Colby’s garden or beyond. Pattison views his role as president as similar to that of being a chef.

“If you’re a chef, you can cook a variety of dishes that you want to create. With COFGA, I can grow anything I want to and experiment. Some members might choose to do food activism, while others might experiment with food recovery things…there are so many ways to approach gardening,” said Pattison.

As “head chef” of COFGA, Pattison has the unique opportunity to educate others on food security and sustainable farming practices. However, he views himself as more of a facilitator than director, choosing to aid and initiate various projects and possibilities while fueling the curiosities of those interested in gardening.

“The educational aspect is also so important. I’m so curious about spaces of Earth and figuring out what can grow there,” said Pattison. “I like to help others find that curiosity in gardening and farming and to teach others mindfulness of the environment itself. And tons of people do that, not just me-through their activism, research, etcetera, but I find it through hands-on work with the Earth and I like helping others find this same level of respect.”

Yet this education does not end at Colby. Pattison attempts to encourage and aid organic farming practices in a variety of locations. Moreover, years of sustainable gardening have taught him the immeasurable power of food security and the privilege of having access to both organic food and adequate, healthy meals. Pattison volunteers at the Waterville Food Bank every week in an attempt to mitigate food uncertainty.

“I go to the Food Bank a lot and help out bringing food to people…it’s really nice because there are so many people who need food and support in Waterville, said Pattison.

“So acknowledging that and saying ‘I always grew up with healthy, locally-grown food, or at least healthy food’ or ‘I always sat down and ate with my family every night for dinner’…you realize your privilege. And for many people in Waterville, they may not have food security, they may not sit down for meals together, they may not have access to healthy food or food at all. I want to help alleviate that and give them support.” 

Clearly, organic farming is an incredibly multi-faceted idea, ranging from preventing food insecurity through the Waterville Food Bank to developing urban greenhouses similar to those initiated by Will Allen. Pattison recognizes the interconnectedness of these facets and that, in the complex world of sustainable agriculture, there is still much to learn.

“I’ve fortunately made connections with people through gardening. I have a friend who lives in Waterville and he own 30 acres in Oakland… and I have learned so much from working with him. I connect with people over gardening… and the farming community in Maine helps build so many random and interesting connections.”

“The other day I had dinner with a bee farmer who has over 300 beehives…Its nice to see other people’s gardens and connection to the land and the Earth. I see this interconnectedness in gardening as a way to bring life to the area, in a way,” said Pattison.

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