Student garden interns spend summer sowing seeds of sustainability

Katie Chriest, Sustainable Food Systems program coordinator and Pearl Patterson and their chickens.

Katie Chriest, Sustainable Food Systems program coordinator and Pearl Patterson and their chickens. 

Credit: Penn State Behrend
Cuddling chickens is not an activity you would expect at Erie’s Blues & Jazz Festival, an annual weekend-long summer music concert. But two Penn State Behrend students, Jessie Johnson and Pearl Patterson, knew that a handful of hens at this popular event would be a great way to draw attention to their efforts to overturn a law against keeping chickens in the City of Erie.

Johnson and Patterson are spearheading the operation through Chicks4Erie, an online community they formed through Instagram and Facebook to spread the word about urban poultry-keeping.

“Allowing Erie residents to legally keep chickens will bring numerous positive benefits, including improving the environment through the reduction of pests like ticks and providing organic soil amendments for gardeners,” according to the Chicks4Erie mission statement written by Johnson and Patterson. “It will also increase self-sufficiency and food security through the production of eggs.”

The Chicks4Erie initiative is just one of several projects that three Behrend students—Johnson, Patterson and Aydin Mitchell—worked on this summer as interns for the University’s Sustainable Food Systems Program. A student garden, started by the Greener Behrend student organization in 2016, is another sustainability initiative being undertaken by Behrend students.

Student Garden interns are responsible for the gardens on Behrend’s campus, but their work this summer reached far beyond weeding and watering. They ran a popular campus CSA (community-supported agriculture) program, oversaw a nearby elementary school garden, taught outreach programs, staffed an information table at a weekly Erie farmer’s market, and researched expansion efforts for the campus garden space and other sustainable food systems initiatives.