Wednesday rolls along and you can hear the yawns, groans and dragging feet from students across campus. Tired from the beginning of the week and the last two days of the week looming ahead, everyone is ready for an after class nap.
Not Meredith Herbst.
Herbst spends every Wednesday afternoon at Barnett Shoals Elementary showing kids the relationship between food and nature, where food comes from, how it grows and what makes it healthy.
“I really like the whole idea of community gardens and how it brings people together, college students getting to learn with and teach kids. It’s like when you go out to dinner with friends- the food brings you together: to talk and communicate,” said the sophomore from Dallas, Texas.
The Lunchbox Garden Project, created in 2012, promotes food literacy through working with children in school gardens. According to Herbst, the common goal includes raising awareness, generating interest, and evaluating the impact of food and our environment.
“She is connected to food and environment happenings not just on campus but also in the broader Athens community, which exactly aligns with the project’s mission to help kids in Athens learn about how the food we eat and the environment are interconnected,” said Elizabeth Wilkes, co-executive director.
When Herbst first got involved with the Lunchbox Garden Project in spring 2015, she took on the responsibility of creating and facilitating a cookbook fundraiser, landing her the executive position.
“Finding seasonal produce was cool because we had to figure out which vegetables and produce were in depending on the season,” Herbst said. “Researching that for Georgia was very insightful and relevant to my life here in Georgia.” She enjoys working with other members, she said, because of the opportunity to bounce ideas and express her creativity.
Herbst worked closely with Co-Executive Director Shreya Ganeshan on the cookbook.
“Meredith is an invaluable member of the Lunchbox Garden executive team,” Ganeshan said. “Her ability to freehand graphics provided a genuine touch to the product we were trying to create.”
Herbst was happy to raise money for the Lunchbox Garden Project and to provide low budget, healthy recipes to her peers through the cookbook. She currently heads promotions through organization, events, volunteer coordination, social media, and the website.
“Meredith brings excitement and new ideas, and knowledge of how to make an online presence,” Wilkes said. “In particular, she’s helped revive our website so it is now not only up-to-date but also engaging and informative.”
Herbst’s major in Agricultural Communication sparked her interest to get involved initially. She said she’d always hoped to do environmental and agricultural work outside of the classroom. Herbst also enjoys working with kindergarten through fourth graders.
“She is good with working with kids and creating relevant ideas and goals for the organization,” said Kate Long, Director of Education. According to Long, Herbst brings energy and passion and finds creative solutions.
“These kids love learning. It’s refreshing,” Herbst said, “I can get really caught up in college, but to see that there are still kids learning is really nice.”
Each week has a theme, such as seeds or beans from which a lesson plan is developed. According to Herbst, the kids help her learn just as much as she teaches them.
One girl asked about biodiversity through the acorns, which compelled Herbst to think about the question on a deeper level along with the elementary school student.
“We kind of stop questioning things, but these kids are still questioning everything. It’s a humbling experience because you realize how little you know about the world, but it gives you the opportunity to learn with them,” Herbst said.
Along with the Lunchbox Garden Project, Herbst gives back to the community in various other organizations.
She channels her love for working with kids into another organization, Camp Kesem. Herbst raises money so that children of cancer patients can attend the camp.
She also serves as the secretary of Students for Environmental Action, dedicated to finding problems and solutions in the environment on campus. According to Herbst, it gives her the opportunity to make little changes on campus to hopefully make a large impact on the environment.
“I find it important to give back to the community because I’ve been so blessed with the opportunities in my life, and I know how much the community has been a part of making that possible,” Herbst said. “The community is a two way street of individuals both giving and getting, and to know that I am part of this team gives me happiness and purpose.”