Schreyer Scholar works to develop sustainable solution to food insecurity


By Jeff Rice

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Vancie Peacock grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, but always dreamed of being on a farm. When she was 4 years old, she said, she became a vegetarian because she didn’t want to eat animals.

The Schreyer Scholar and biological engineering major has further embraced agriculture since becoming a Penn State student. She was instrumental in the creation of the Schreyer Pocket Garden, a new two-year pilot program in partnership with the Student Farm Club, the Lion’s Pantry and the University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA) that will allow Peacock and other students to gain hands-on experience with growing vegetables that will support food security at Penn State.

“I’ve always just been drawn to nature and passionate about the environment and animals,” Peacock said. “To me, agriculture was this cool way that humans in the natural world could benefit from one another and interact and have this special relationship. We can use it as a way to appreciate what nature gives us — food that will provide nutrition for us.”

Peacock participated in the Pennsylvania School for Excellence in Agricultural Sciences program as a high school student, then became the director of food justice for UPUA during her first year at Penn State. She was interviewed for that position by another Schreyer Scholar, Nora Van Horn, who had previously discussed the potential of community gardens on campus with then-Schreyer Honors College Dean Peggy A. Johnson as a sustainability initiative.

Peacock began working as an intern for the Dr. Keiko Miwa Ross Student Farm at Penn State, which recently revived a rooftop garden that had been used in previous years as the site for a research program. She researched potential locations for a garden on campus based on slope, sunlight, access to water and other factors to learn which were most viable for growing vegetables, eventually deciding on the courtyard facing McKean Road outside Simmons Hall. She submitted a proposal to the Office of Physical Plant, with the stipulation that all food harvested would go to the Lion’s Pantry, which helps provide sustenance to Penn State students experiencing food insecurity.

“If it hadn’t been for Vancie developing all of those details, doing that research and legwork, recruiting some other students to her team to help her think through ideas, and build a budget proposal and a workflow plan and get the mission of the project down in writing, then I don’t think it would have gone anywhere,” said Leslie Pillen, associate director of Farm and Food Systems and the director of the Sustainable Food Systems Program, “because everyone needed something coherent and cohesive to understand what the commitments would need to be from the different partners involved.

“She really shepherded that through from a blank document into a full proposal," added Pillen.

Peacock, who will serve as the initial Student Farm intern who oversees the garden, said she hopes the Schreyer Pocket Garden will help educate her fellow students about food insecurity, and will be the first of several others of its kind on campus.

“It’s going to be a small garden, but I think anything makes a difference,” Peacock said. “Most of all, I hope that when students walk by and see it, they will be inspired to take action. I want everyone to know that they have the power to create change. I hope it inspires people and also serves as a way to educate them.”

About the Schreyer Honors College

The Schreyer Honors College promotes academic excellence with integrity, the building of a global perspective, and creation of opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. Schreyer Scholars total nearly 2,000 students across the University. More than 15,000 Scholars have graduated with honors from Penn State since 1980.


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College of Engineering Media Relations

“I hope that when students walk by and see it [the garden], they will be inspired to take action. I want everyone to know that they have the power to create change.”
—Vancie Peacock, Penn State biological engineering student