The Collegian
Saturday, March 25, 2023

New university initiatives support sustainable food education

Outside the office of Amy Treonis in the Gottwald Science Center, lettuce, broccoli, onions and other seedlings are preparing for their ultimate transfer to outdoor soil. They will soon grow in shared agricultural plots to benefit lower-income communities in southside Richmond.

Treonis, an associate professor of biology at University of Richmond, has been working with the nonprofit organization Renew Richmond, which runs community gardens and urban farms in southside Richmond. Renew Richmond's goal is to promote food security, economic development and environmental education.

John Lewis, current director of Renew Richmond, began there as a volunteer soon after the organization was founded in 2009.

"Our programs are focused on youth and development of lower-income communities," Lewis said. Renew Richmond's gardens are located at G.H. Reid Elementary School, George Wythe High School, Swansboro Baptist Church and within a residential area of southside.

Treonis and Lewis are cultivating some of this season's crops at the university until the weather is consistently warm enough for them to be moved to those outside locations.

A small group of middle and high school students from the southside area have also come to campus to help Treonis and Lewis with this project.

"They're teenagers, and they're developing a community garden, so that's pretty cool," Lewis said. "They started that initiative on their own."

Tabbitha Bruck, a freshman biology major at Richmond, has decided to spend this summer doing research with Treonis and serving Renew Richmond as an intern.

Bruck said she was interested in sustainable food because it was "vital to our future generations." Next year, she will be in a new Sophomore Scholars in Residence program titled "Eating Locally, Thinking Globally." Treonis will co-lead this living and learning program with Elizabeth Ransom, an associate professor of sociology.

"I am excited to dive right into truly understanding agriculture," Bruck said. She said her interest in fitness contributed to her curiosity about health and food.

Treonis said Megan Zanella-Litke, director of the Office of Sustainability, had expressed desires to incorporate sustainability into interdisciplinary education. This is how the idea for "Eating Locally, Thinking Globally" came about.

"We thought it was as important as learning a language or an art program," Treonis said.

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This SSIR will address sustainable food in the contexts of numerous fields including anthropology, economics, history and nutrition. Treonis also said the class would travel to Belize to visit farms next January.

The Bonner Center for Civic Engagement is also helping students pursue interests in sustainable food with its Food and Nutrition Fellows program. The CCE will help connect the fellows, primarily Bonner Scholars, with eight nonprofits in this field around the Richmond area, including Renew Richmond.

The fellows will then have the option to apply for summer internships at these organizations. If their chosen organizations accept them, the CCE will give the fellows a stipend of $1,500, in addition to a variable stipend to cover living costs.

Blake Stack, coordinator for the Bonner Scholars Program, said Renew Richmond had expressed interests in having interns from the university this year, though Richmond students had never worked there before.

"I think that food and nutrition is something that we have not really given a lot of attention to," Stack said. "But there are a lot of great organizations in the city that are doing great work."

Contact reporter Catherine Sinclair at

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