As our final semester is coming to a close and we are all in the midst of preparing for our final thesis defenses, I have begun to reflect back on this past year in the ESTEEM program. Especially as I prepare for my own thesis defense, I cannot believe how far my project has come since the beginning of the summer semester. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to work on a thesis project that I can honestly say I am deeply passionate about. This opportunity was made possible because of the hard work and dedication of the ESTEEM staff members to ensure that each one of us found a project that was the right fit for our interests and backgrounds.
Coming into the program, I had an undergraduate degree in environmental science and I was very interested in the intersection between social justice and sustainability, especially relating to sustainable agriculture and food policy. I was not sure whether I would be able to work on a thesis project within this area of interest, but I shared my passions early on with the hopes that this might be possible. As soon as I mentioned this to the ESTEEM staff, they immediately embraced the idea and jumped to the task of finding an industry-sponsored project that would allow me to work within the field of environmental science and to learn firsthand what it takes to create a successful social enterprise.
They soon found the perfect industry sponsor: The South Bend Unity Gardens. I was absolutely thrilled to be working with a non-profit that embodied my passion for social justice within the food industry and that was impacting the community in such a meaningful and inspiring way. Their mission is to improve community health in South Bend by increasing access to fresh produce, providing education on nutrition and food preparation, and helping to create a sustainable local food system that positively impacts the community both socially and economically. Through their gardens located throughout the city, they bring diverse people together, provide fresh food for everyone, and provide education that is focused on empowering people to grow healthy food.
It has truly been a privilege to work alongside and learn from Sara Stewart and Mitch Yaciw, the two managers of the Unity Gardens and the source of inspiration and hard work behind this inspiring mission. They have helped to guide my thesis work and have supported me every step of the way, providing me with hands-on experience in the garden, incredibly insightful business advice and important connections with local community members. I am inspired daily by their love for this community and their commitment to the Unity Gardens mission, and I couldn’t have asked for two better mentors for my thesis project in ESTEEM. They have taught me firsthand what it takes to create a successful and impactful social business venture, and as graduation approaches, I know that I will take these lessons and values with me as I pursue a career in global food policy.
To learn more about the Unity Gardens and the work they are doing within South Bend, you can visit their website or Facebook page!