Student Blogger Study USA

A New Beginning, An Opportunity for Growth

Picture of classroom at Lily Springs Farm. we sit in a space full of light, sound, and nature allowing us to reach a deeper point of connectivity within the material we are learning, as well as each other as peers and a community.

Each term, one participant from each HECUA program takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Dustyn Montgomery is HECUA’s student blogger for the Environmental Sustainability program. Dustyn is a student at The University of St. Thomas, majoring in Justice and Peace Studies. Read on for his first post!

The first few weeks of the HECUA Environmental Sustainability program are hard to put into words. Coming into this program I knew only what my friend, who had been a part of this program in the past, had told me about this experience. This program already, in a few short weeks, has opened my eyes to many things, one of the first being the reinforcement on teaching from a pedagogy of love, and the importance of intentionality to build community among one another. From the first day of class when my professor, Sam Grant, had us put our hands over our hearts and invited us look around at our new “relatives,” seeing the smiles rise on each of my peers faces warmed my inner spirit, reinforcing that I was in the right space of energy to grow and take all that I can from this experience. Already in the first week this program has opened my eyes to the world of permaculture, not just as a practice, but as a way of life. Although I feel I am still learning and understanding more about permaculture, I know that I am in the right space to allow for growth to happen.

The first field visit of the semester began at Gandhi Mahal restaurant in South Minneapolis. Going to school at St. Thomas, South Minneapolis is ultimately not that far away, yet I have not spent much time exploring the area. Upon learning about Gandhi Mahal, the vision, and the emphasis on building community through cuisine, it reminded me of my own place of employment, Tillie’s Farmhouse. It made me realize how many things in my life are currently intersecting, and are doing so all for the right reasons. The day spent in the community room next to Gandhi Mahal restaurant gave me a deeper insight into permaculture design, as well as a first-hand look at practices being done within the space we where we are learning, such as the aquaponics system in the basement. Before this class, I did not know what an aquaponics system or permaculture was, or even did. After spending time in Gandhi Mahal, I gained an understanding that they use a large tank of water with fish inside, and use filtration systems to filter the natural fertilizer from the fish into beds of rocks that allow for the growth of different leafy greens and herbs to be grown within the basement of the restaurant. My time this summer working as a cook at Tillie’s Farmhouse, a farm-to-table restaurant in St. Paul, opened my mind up to the practice and importance of sourcing locally and building community through cuisine. I did not know that there are other restaurants doing similar work to that of my own, let alone using sustainable and permaculture-based practices, such as an aquaponics system. I believe this groundbreaking experiment being utilized by Gandhi Mahal has the ability to grow into something much larger, not only in that restaurant, but others like it, and maybe even the one where I work.

During my second week, we spent two days at Lily Springs Farm in Wisconsin. Right upon arrival, I knew this was a place full of love, light, and energy, not only in the people who live and work on the land, but also in those who have spent time on this land before me. During my time at Lily Springs, we learned about regenerative agriculture practices, specifically the use of permaculture and how it has been making drastic improvements to the land at Lily Springs farm. Although this was my first experience learning about permaculture, I gained an understanding of the key concepts: Earth Care, People Care, and Future Care. I saw all of these concepts applied to the land at Lily Springs Farm. The concept of Earth Care was shown in the intentional design of crops that allow for multiple types of plants and produce to grow together in harmony, all the while regenerating the soil for future production and growth. The concept of People Care presented itself in the form of education to students, such as my classmates and I, as well as the production of clean and healthy products, ready to be consumed by the workers and surrounding community members. Finally, I noticed that the work currently being done at Lily Springs farm is not solely for the benefit of all living things in the present moment, but for many more generations to come.

This experience of learning while in the field reinforced what I thought and felt. HECUA emphasizes education without borders, and the importance of intentionality within education. I felt so deeply connected to my peers as well as my instructors as we actively participated in conversation with one another, consuming and digesting the information we were being fed. I think, most importantly, our time learning did not end in the small farm house, but carried over into our conversations during dinner, and the time we spent exploring the land at Lily Springs Farm.

This is only the beginning of a semester long journey with HECUA. A journey that I believe will not end when the semester ends, but will be a journey that will allow me to bring forth new knowledge, experiences, relationships, and intentionality into the work my peers and I hope to accomplish in our futures. I believe there is something truly special about the places I have visited thus far with HECUA. There is something special about the way in which we learn from and experience these trips together in community with one another, as students, as friends, and as a family.

I cannot wait to continue exploring, reflecting, and growing individually, as well as collectively, as my time with HECUA continues onward.


This image is of a red barn in a field, set against a grey sky at Lily Springs Farm.
The barn at Lily Springs Farm. I believe this image represents my experience with HECUA and college thus far as a Justice and Peace Studies student. The topics we examine are heavy, but, if complemented with the right space of energy and light, we can allow ourselves to better understand them and learn ways in which we can create positive change through our own individual and collective efforts and actions. Photo credit: Dustyn Montgomery.


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