Cultivating Change Through Education and Community Gardening

by Emma Saathoff | Student Writer

East Campus pillars at enterance
August 22, 2023

Lincoln, Neb. —Bailey Feit is a passionate advocate for education and community engagement at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. As the Early College and Career STEM Focus Program coordinator for UNL’s College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, she has the opportunity to transform young minds and deepen their connection to the environment.  

"CASNR has a strong partnership with Lincoln Northeast High School," Feit said. "It's a one-of-its-kind focus program about making agricultural education accessible to urban students who may have no idea they are around agriculture and natural resources every single day." 

This program integrates agriculture and natural resource concepts into the standard curriculum, touching all 1,800 students at Lincoln Northeast. The program aims to shed light on the interconnectedness of food, energy, water, and societal systems—four challenges that impact everyone. New perspectives are woven into classroom learning, and upperclassmen have the opportunity to engage in internships, college classes, job shadowing, and digital badge programs. 

The roots took hold when a group of students from English Language Learner classes read "Seedfolks," a novel centered around the transformative power of planting seeds. This novel sparked a fire within these students, leading them to propose the creation of a community garden to the school administration. 

With approval from the school's principal and support from organizations such as Civic Nebraska, the journey began. Four raised beds marked the start, with the first harvest being shared with the community.  

Beyond the tangible benefits of fresh produce, the gardening club has had a big impact on the students and the broader school community. The garden has become a source of pride and identity for Northeast High School, fostering confidence, respect for the environment, and a sense of responsibility among students. 

This past year Lincoln Northeast has taken the fruits of their labor to East Campus Discovery Days, where they shared their produce with market visitors. The community's response was overwhelmingly positive, with many expressing surprise at the free offering and contributing support to the cause. This event wasn't just about distributing fresh produce—it was a platform for students to experience the impact of their efforts and for the community to acknowledge their dedication. “Food brings us together.” Feit says. “It is very joyful to see the students become excited to see these little seeds they planted become fully grown. They are learning that something small like a school community garden can have a positive impact on others.” 

Central to the project's success is the involvement of the community. Lincoln Northeast's School Neighborhood Advisory Committee (SNAC) plays a pivotal role, uniting teachers, parents, students, administration, and community members in a collaborative effort. This joint venture not only nurtures the garden but envisions a more connected and resilient neighborhood. 

Feit and the gardening club expect the program to grow in the future. The expansion of pollinator habitats, cut flowers, a solar-powered shed, a miniature greenhouse, and even a mobile entrepreneurship program are on the horizon. Through these initiatives, the gardening club envisions transforming Lincoln into a community focused on fresh food and addressing food insecurity. 

The efforts of Bailey Feit and Lincoln Northeast serve as a powerful reminder that through education, collaboration, and nature, communities can flourish—both in knowledge and togetherness.