By Nonie Arora
Duke Senior Emily McGinty is pioneering an effort to connect campus farms across the country. McGinty, a senior Baldwin Scholar and public policy major from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has been passionate about food issues since high school. On campus, she is also actively engaged in Round Table Selective Living Group and Team Kenan, and is the managing editor for Rival magazine.
When she was organizing food-related discussions with Nicole Tocco, a former Duke masters student at the Nicholas School of the Environment and current employee of Bon Appetit Management Company, McGinty had a breakthrough about one of the fundamental problems in campus growing communities. “There was no platform for connecting, no hub for sharing best practices and ideas,” McGinty said. She wanted to create a centralized resource that would enable campus growers to communicate best practices in their investigative agricultural work.
McGinty’s underlying inspiration to create this centralized hub for campus farmers and growers comes from her experience helping develop the Duke Campus Farm. While Duke’s campus farm is only two and half years old, it is well established and strongly documents its own agricultural practices and research. Students work with professors and practitioners around the Triangle to investigate problems from crop science to building construction. The Duke Campus Farm community is also committed to intentional community building. McGinty explained, “It’s about developing reciprocal relationships. It’s very much a process – not just ‘making friends.’ But you can call it a professional site visit or hopping over to say hey to a neighbor. We’re all about building a strong community and learning from each other.”
She said she feels privileged to work in an area where sharing ideas has no drawbacks. “A fundamental piece of our desire to create a central hub is that we [campus farmers and gardeners] are in a remarkable situation where we have nothing to lose by sharing business plans. Your average corporation cannot share all their business plans and how they function the way they are, but we only benefit from ideas spreading,” McGinty said. “We can share everything from the structure of our board of advisors to parameters used for growing 500 feet of potatoes.”
Her team started by building an online platform where people across several college campuses could become members. They began with an online document, where members could upload their research practices in sustainable agriculture. Since then, they have gone through multiple iterations to find the best online home for the hub, which is still under development.
Over the last 6 months, she has conducted many site visits in North and South Carolina to pitch the idea and ask questions about how the hub would benefit others. One of McGinty’s major goals is to get students outside of the immediately interested food community to plug in. McGinty said she strongly believes that food work is interdisciplinary and undergraduate and graduate student research isn’t shared enough. She hopes that this website will reenergize original work produced by undergraduates relating to food issues.
Ultimately, McGinty hopes this open source philosophy will help campus farms across the country thrive by building communication networks and promoting evidence-based agriculture.