On Tuesday, June 10, the much-loved Harvard Farmers’ Market returns to the Science Center Plaza. Now in its ninth season, the Market signals the start of warmer months and brings fresh and local produce, seafood, cheeses, and flowers to the community.
I recently sat down with Margiana Petersen-Rockney, the new Food Literacy Project (FLP) and Farmers’ Market Coordinator. Created as an initiative of Harvard University Dining Services to “cultivate an understanding of food from the group up,” the FLP embodies Harvard’s commitment to educating and engaging students, staff and faculty on issues of health and well-being.
Under the umbrella of FLP, Margiana is in charge of not only the Market, but over 20 students who serve as food ambassadors throughout the year in each of the undergraduate Houses, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the Kennedy School. She also oversees the management of the student-run Harvard Community Garden and the corresponding summer garden internship program. If that wasn’t enough she also focuses on organizing educational events to stimulate a conversation around the inter-related topics of food, agriculture, policy, and health.
Raised on a goat farm in southeastern Massachusetts, Margiana is highly attuned to agriculture practice and perspective. A graduate of Brown University, she herself farmed full-time for four years, in addition to founding and serving as the Executive Director of the New England-based Young Farmer Network. Her background is rooted in farming and food production, and Margiana is adding production to the integrated areas of focus of FLP, which currently includes, community, nutrition, sustainability, and preparation.
Passionate about food and its power to connect and unite, she is hoping to expand and explore new opportunities for the Food Literacy Project—starting by opening up the program and their events to all of the University’s community of faculty, graduate students, and staff, as well as to the local residents.
Since food connects across disciplines, this project has the capability and opportunity to act as a network or a catalyst, bringing different groups from the community together in academic and applied settings
Margiana is planning more educational, discussion-based events, which will tackle cross-disciplinary issues, such as climate change and food production, or labor and the food system, and bring together experts from every corner of Harvard and beyond. She plans to use the University’s wealth of knowledgeable faculty to spark engaging and thought provoking conversations, and partner with existing groups on campus to create events that reach all 12 of Harvard’s Schools and Units. “Since food connects across disciplines, this project has the capability and opportunity to act as a network or a catalyst, bringing different groups from the community together in academic and applied settings,” says Margiana.
Her knack for farming and agriculture will no doubt reach into the Harvard Community Garden, located on Mt. Auburn street in front of Lowell House, where she hopes to both physically and programmatically expand. Margiana envisions the garden transitioning to a true common space, by bringing life to ideas such as a community patio and arbor space, or even a brick oven. This garden she says has the potential to, “transform into a fun, inviting, and educational space, which can encourage more class meetings, community activities, and informal gatherings.”
One new addition to the Garden can be seen running along the fence, what Margiana refers to as a “demonstration of edible landscaping.” Planted among the lovely flowers, passers-by will find a mix of medicinal and edible herbs and plants including lavender, bee balm, a new grape vine, calendula, yarrow, and even some hops. Again, Margiana hopes to invite the community into the Garden through conversation and question, as well as exhibit the vitality of urban gardens.
In regards to on-campus food production, Margiana says, “Because of its physical space, Harvard has the potential for real, urban food production. I would love to develop this concept as not only a strategy to increase sustainable and local food on campus, but as an educational opportunity and a community space to bring together both the Harvard and wider communities.”
As for the 20 FLP student representatives she partners with, Margiana hopes to continue to grow the program that was modeled after the Office for Sustainability’s own undergraduate Resource Efficiency Program. She hopes to engage more students in discourse, offer “intentional learning” through readings, assignments, farm visits and field trips, and use their ideas to plan larger forums or food summits.
More than anything, Margiana is “impressed and pleasantly surprised by how much students desires and voices matter and influence decisions” at Harvard.