Hiram College
Cover image: Branching Pattern 1, © Paul Merryman 2003, www.paulmerrymanart.com.

It’s good to be periodically reminded that the visible world of life as we know it is only a small slice of reality, resting upon universes of interrelated processes normally hidden from view. 

Take food for example. The act of eating is but a moment in an ongoing cycle of highly complex interactions.  The dark depths of soil where seeds first awaken are teeming with life.  A single teaspoon of rich garden soil contains about a billion bacteria, several yards of branching mycelial threads, thousands of protozoa, and hundreds of beneficial nematodes!  This mind-boggling amount of inter-activity in the root zone is what makes nutrients available to plants.  Then there’s the plant’s ability to convert sunlight into foods which make those nutrients available to us.  Following that, you have the post-dinner transformation of peas and pizza into muscle, bone, and useable energy.  Although scientifically understood, it all still feels a bit like alchemy.

Four Food Pictures

Learning is that way too.  Behind the mouths, eyes, ears, and hands exchanging the symbols through which we communicate and learn are vast neural networks.  These branching structures are always on the move—strengthening, pruning, and creating the connections comprising what we know.  Although it’s perfectly natural and everybody does it, the process of learning feels somewhat like magic.  Through it, something that was not previously “in” our minds or part of what we knew gets integrated into our ever-changing sense of reality—altering the conditions within which we fashion the future out of the present.

Also usually invisible to us are the networks of social forces shaping our everyday lives, and the environmental conditions, historical circumstances, and power relations which shape them.  Cultivating the ability to see those, as well as the outgoing ripple effects of our own actions, is a big part of my task as a sociologist and professor of Environmental Studies.  The prospect of understanding these seemingly inscrutable phenomena is part of what makes this work so exciting.

The SEEDS’ work this year involves all three of these delightfully mysterious processes.

As with food, learning, and social processes, much of what the SEEDS have been up to has been taking place out of public view.  My purpose here is to call attention to their efforts to learn more about food, its relation to community resilience, and the possibilities for growing community—in and through food—at Hiram.  They’ve been especially interested in:

  • the unsustainability of industrial food systems
  • the precarious state of modern supply chains
  • existing and potential food insecurity in our region and beyond
  • the many functions food serves in our lives for cultivating health, pleasure, cultural identity, social bonds, celebration, and more
  • steps communities and individuals can take toward greater self-reliance and resilience
  • creative ways to get Hiram students, faculty, and staff involved in growing, eating, and appreciating food right here on campus

Their goal this spring is to explore ways to translate what they learn about the mostly unseen forces influencing what and how we eat into practical applications for you and me, and the Hiram community.

So if you want to learn more about bread-breaking opportunities at Hiram, how to grow vegetables in your room, turn leftovers into compost, build a greenhouse, and more…grab a seat.  The more the merrier at this moveable feast.


You can keep up with the SEEDs by subscribing to the Discovery blog, following HiramSEEDS on twitter, and emailing the students directly with questions or comments.

In-post photos by author. From left to right: steaming compost in process, finished compost, pea harvest, 
and the garden cycle continues.