College of Agriculture & Natural Resources
Institute of Applied Agriculture

Fresh Food for Terps in Need: Community Learning Garden Donates to Campus Pantry

Salvador Fawkes and Meredith Epstein
Salvador Fawkes at the UMD Community Learning Garden

Visitors to the University of Maryland’s Community Learning Garden often ask the question: where does all the food go? Until this summer, the answer has always been the same: the bounty of cucumbers, tomatoes, summer squash, herbs, and more go home with the volunteers who help maintain the garden. Now the garden has become so productive, that often the volunteers cannot eat it all.

The Institute of Applied Agriculture's (IAA) Sustainable Agriculture instructor, Meredith Epstein, has been in charge of maintaining the space as a teaching garden for the IAA since 2013. As the de facto produce distributor for the garden, she can recall numerous occasions when crates full of peppers or salad greens were left after harvest. “I always figured out something to do with it, whether asking random passers-by if they’d like to have salad for dinner or canning chutney for the holidays,” says Epstein, “But we’ve always known there is a better solution – donating directly to those struggling with food access in our community. We just didn’t have a system in place to make it feasible.”

Enter the Community Learning Garden’s first-ever summer intern. Through a collaborative effort between the UMD Arboretum and Botanical Garden, UMD Dining Services, and the IAA, Salvador Fawkes was hired in June 2017 as the Campus Food Garden Intern. A first-year Sustainable Agriculture major at the IAA, he has seen firsthand the necessity of a food bank for students, faculty, and staff. “Quite a few students on campus struggle to afford healthy meals while balancing a budget,” remarks Fawkes.

His daily routine involves caring for food gardens across campus, coordinating harvests and deliveries to the UMD Campus Pantry, and distributing that food to the pantry’s clients. “The most rewarding aspect of this internship is seeing the anticipation from people and knowing the food you grow goes to people that might not have had a meal that day otherwise.”

The harvest changes weekly throughout the season, allowing pantry clients to access a variety of fresh foods and giving Fawkes the opportunity to hone his harvest and post-harvest handling techniques for dozens of different types of produce. First, all harvest tools and containers must undergo thorough cleaning and disinfection to prevent foodborne pathogens. Harvest takes place on Thursdays and is refrigerated overnight at the 251 North dining hall to allow for the freshest quality produce to be distributed at the pantry on Fridays. 

The Campus Pantry opened its doors in October, 2014 under the management of Allison Tjaden, Dining Services’ Assistant Director for New Initiatives. The program is a collaboration between the Department of Dining Services and the University Health Center and receives support from countless campus departments, student groups, local businesses, and alumni. The UMD Campus Pantry’s mission is to alleviate food hardship among UMD students, faculty, and staff by providing emergency food. This is achieved through taking in donations and then distributing goods in a socially conscious manner. Donations in the form of non-perishable goods are accepted weekdays from 8:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. at the Dining Services South Campus Administrative Office, South Campus Diner. For fresh food items, pantry manager Larry Tumlin shared that “It’s meaningful to have multiple gardens, as well as Terp Farm, donating local produce to the Pantry for more nutritious options.”

Clients are welcome to access the Pantry on Fridays from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. in the Helisa Room (0143) on the bottom floor of the UMD Health Center. Clients may choose up to 10 non-perishable items and as much fresh produce as needed. Fresh herbs are often available as seasonings and other veggies and greens provide great ingredients for salads. Clients are provided anonymity when using the Pantry.

IAA Director Glori Hyman is pleased with this new initiative. “This year the University of Maryland became the nation's first Do Good campus, inspiring all of us to do better, to do more, to help each other,” she says. “The garden to food pantry project is one way we can ‘do good.’ Plus it's gratifying that IAA faculty are doing such a good job teaching students to grow their own food that there is an abundance to share.”

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