With our theme of Springtime renewal, and of starting afresh, in this post we talk to Dorota Hajdukiewicz, a mature student at the University of Huddersfield. I recently read about an urban food-growing project she and her fellow students are starting on land owned by the University, and thought it was a great story, and also that it gave a great taste of a project at its early stage, full of possibility. Dorota, and other colleagues in the Students for Sustainability group are taking on some old greenhouses and land owned by the University. I’ll hand over to her…
“This space will be somewhere where everyone will find something to do, whether developing a heating or watering system or finding innovative ways to grow fruit and vegetables. Together we can learn and teach others how to become more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
To be perfectly honest, there are no experienced growers in our group. We’re amateurs. I have a little garden at home, for the last two years, so I’m learning. Other people also grow some food in pots, or fruit. A big majority of our student members don’t have any experience. So we will be learning from organisations like Kirklees Environment Partnership and Grow to School. There is an organisation in Kirklees called Growing Newsome which has a community allotment. They’re coming to visit us, or we can visit them to learn skills and gain knowledge – not to exchange knowledge as we don’t have much to offer at the moment!
We have business students, art students, engineering students. Not only can students grow food if they like, they can work on DIY items like a pond, sustainable heating system, lighting system, DIY solar panels, these kind of things.
I’m trying my best to juggle this project with my studies. I don’t go to parties or drink alcohol, so I spend my time working in the garden or studying.
It has been quite challenging. Lots of meetings, organisational stuff, business plans. But every time I think of the greenhouses, whether I am there or just talking about them, I feel enthusiastic and motivated to make this project happen. It’ll be great: improving community well-being, helping the University to reach out to the community and engage with them, organising workshops for children, for adults and engaging students in a complex project to give them the possibility to learn skills, knowledge, team working, give them a boost of confidence.
I was working in warehouses before. I don’t have an academic background in my family or anywhere. I would never expect myself to be starting projects like this, or even starting university. There are many students thinking in a similar way. We have international students coming from Nigeria, from Bangladesh, from India, from Moldova. We have all sorts of nationalities and everyone has a story behind them and wants to achieve something really good here in the UK. This is our motivation, to engage with the community as international students, if that makes sense?
It’s hard to put into words what keeps us going, really. We get no support from the Students Union, but the support from the University is overwhelming and they are really good with helping us gain access to the greenhouses. They haven’t put any barriers up. They want to repair these greenhouses, to be involved in growing food. The new Catering Manager is very enthusiastic about working with us.
These are principles I would like to follow in life. Environmental concerns, social change. The economic disenfranchisement that I would be strongly standing for if I had a choice, or influencing government. Educating people about the importance of local food, organic food, and reconnecting with the food that we all eat is very important. Also the social aspect of it, engaging with students who are working on a common project, a common goal. Meeting students from across the world.
It has already given me a massive boost of confidence, and I believe so it has to other students. In the face of the EU referendum now, I would like to see Remain winning. For our engagement with our community, I live here in the UK already for 8 years and I give what I can. The opportunities that we’ve got here in the UK and in the University itself are very overwhelming and couldn’t possibly happen in Poland if we stayed there, and we appreciate that and we want to give it back. That’s the thing that keeps us going as well, I would say.
We were recently visited by Natalie Bennett (Leader of the Green Party). This is a good PR for us. It’s engaging politicians, engaging the University, all people on higher levels. Maybe not decision makers but potentially the winning party in the future hopefully. Getting the interest of important people, those who we see on the TV, for a project that is actually just starting is really motivating to work on making this project successful I would say.
To others wanting to start projects like this I would say, “Who dares, wins” and if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Students need to be brave. This is our probably our last time we can spend some time doing some positive things while we’re studying, because then the majority of students will go into employment and will just be looking for high earnings, and families, and maybe they will be lacking time. This is such a wonderful opportunity to work with the community, gain practical skills, not only academic knowledge.
You can keep up to date with the project on the group’s Facebook page.