Planted: SCAD & Second Harvest Are Changing The World One Meal At A Time

Words by Paige Townley

Photos provided by SCAD

The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) has been a part of the landscape of Savannah for decades.

It all started in 1978, and it began with a purpose: to provide college degree programs that weren’t previously available in Southeast Georgia. That single mission propelled the college to become one of the most prominent academic institutions in the state. Over fourteen thousand students per year travel to the Hostess City of the South from all around the country and from more than 100 countries—not to mention from its other campus locations in Atlanta, Hong Kong, and France.

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Staying true to its roots and founding principles, SCAD became an integral part of its community and has actively welcomed that role within its home city. “These days, the city of Savannah is as evergreen as the oaks that fill the city squares,” says SCAD President Paula Wallace. “It’s been a joy to see the Hostess City of the South blossom over the past four decades, and I’m so proud that SCAD plays a role in the revitalization—preserving historic spaces, attracting visitors and new residents, presenting cultural events throughout the year, and creating hundreds of millions of dollars in economic output. We love Savannah!”

That impact has been made, thanks to SERVE, the College’s student-led community service initiative which has long facilitated student volunteer hours with a variety of areas in need, from construction projects and animal shelter projects to work with medical patients and senior citizens. To commemorate SCAD’s 40th anniversary, the College has taken its philanthropic initiative one step further with the creation of SCAD Back40, a one-acre sustainable farm that’s utilized to provide produce to America’s Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia, a volunteer-driven nonprofit food bank that provides much needed nourishment to children, families, senior citizens, and others at risk of hunger. “In Coastal Georgia, 58.1 percent of the children qualify for free or reduced meals,” says Second Harvest’s Executive Director Mary Jane Crouch. “We serve 21 counties, and in those counties, there are more than 141,000 people who live at or below the poverty level. We serve the majority of those people.”

Mary Jane estimates that in a single year the nonprofit distributes approximately 15.1 million pounds of food, equaling about 12 million meals. Almost half a million meals are cooked and prepared just for Second Harvest’s children’s program, Kids Cafe. What started out as a program for children in Savannah in 1989 is now nationwide and is the third largest childhood hunger initiative in the United States. “We prepare between 4,000 to 5,000 meals every day for these children and deliver them to 72 locations around the community,” adds Mary Jane. “During the summer months we prepare around 7,000 meals per day through that program.”

Many of those meals are now prepared with the harvest from SCAD’s Back40 garden, which includes foods such as kale, collard greens, tomatoes, pink celery, peppers, melons, cucumbers, and Brussels sprouts. “We sought out an incredibly diverse, colorful, and rich array of fruits and vegetables to inspire interest in cultivating nutritious, easy to pollinate, and diverse food crops in and around the landscape,” says Monica Clarke, a senior at SCAD who volunteers with the garden. “Soon we will install several regional heritage vegetables, including Sea Island Brown Beans and Charleston Gold rice. We have several bountiful citrus trees and blueberry bushes to round out the collection.”

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While the monthly food donations to Second Harvest are obviously important to the nonprofit and the children it helps feed—“Kids can’t learn on an empty stomach, and the food we receive from SCAD helps us provide them with so many foods we wouldn’t be able to get otherwise,” stresses Second Harvest Chef Sarah Maier—the garden is also of great importance to students at SCAD, as it is an opportunity to expand their knowledge of urban farming, food security, conservation, and being good stewards. “SCAD Back40 complements SCAD’s degree program by offering students an education in general farming practices, as well as a genuine and hands-on connection to the land,” says Nicholas Hammond, a SCAD senior.

But the garden doesn’t just add to the educational opportunities for those at SCAD—it’s also another avenue for the College to contribute to the education of all students within the community. Local elementary, middle, and high school students are invited to see the garden and learn about urban farming and sustainability. “Two weeks ago we were able to invite local students to explore the space in honor of Youth Service America’s Global Youth Service Day,” Nicholas adds. “Participants learned about the importance of food security and pollinators on farms.”

Another significant need SCAD Back40 aims to fill is increasing the honey bee population, which has declined heavily over the past several decades. Due to colony collapse disorder, bees worldwide have been dying off at a rate of approximately 30 percent per year. The new 15-colony beehive is a way for SCAD to support the conservation effort, as the bee is a special symbol for the school. “One of the driving metaphors of SCAD is the humble bee,” says Paula. “I created our mascot, a character named Art T. Bee, in the early days of SCAD, hoping to evoke the wonder of that tiny creature. Bees are industrious, creative, collaborative, familial, speedy, and hard-working. They make something useful, tasteful, and highly treasured, as do our students and alumni, and bees are plentiful in the American South, where SCAD was born.”

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To ensure success of the bee population, SCAD Back40 uses only natural growing methods—no spray pesticides are allowed—and specific vegetables, fruits, and flowers are incorporated to provide specific types of pollen and nectar for the managed and native bees. “SCAD is mindful that bringing in bees for the apiary can cause food shortages for the area’s native bees, which do not travel as far for food,” adds Samantha Klein, another SCAD senior who volunteers with the SCAD Back40. “That’s why SCAD Back40 also features a seasonal progression of flowers to provide a plentiful and regular source of food for both native and managed bees.”

While SCAD got its start by offering degree programs to those who need it, the school is proud that it’s not only fulfilling that mission 40 years later, but also continuing to provide in any way it can to its students, its community, and the world. “For 40 years, SCAD has always been committed to sustainability, service, and our students,” says Paula. “SCAD rescued 100-plus buildings here in Savannah and around the world. As they say, the greenest building is the one that’s already built! SCAD students donated more than 2,500 hours to service in the Savannah community last year. The SCAD Back40 urban farm and apiary is the next chapter in our story of sustainability and service, where our SCAD Bees (real bees and student Bees!) share love and light with the world!”