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Kansas Wesleyan University

My Prairie Adventure
Sabrina Rosario, Campus Coordinator, CRH at KWU
July 31, 2023

A few days before departing for Salina, Kansas, I met up with some friends in Concord, North Carolina, to say goodbye. It was an emotional day. We were in the thick of COVID, and not only was it great to meet with friends in person, albeit in a safe-social-distancing environment, but it was wonderful to be able to share my excitement as I teetered at the end of one chapter and the beginning of another.

My friends were surprised at my enthusiasm to get to the country’s heartland. Spending months shuttered in my apartment, I had plenty of time to explore the internet watching videos, looking at photos, and reading tourist information and posts about Kansas and Salina. There was so much I didn’t yet know about my new home, much less that I was on the precipice of something both invigorating and transformative in my personal and professional life.

I have always been a nature nerd, so I was pleasantly surprised that my first time experiencing life on the prairie inspired the title of my new chapter “My Prairie Adventure.” As an undergraduate Biological Sciences student, I was supposed to identify a focus area. What I wanted was to just make this planet a better place (that wasn’t a choice). I wanted to stay true to my purpose in life, to find solutions that would enhance our quality of life and sustain our planet beyond my lifetime.

My first view of the Midwest, with its rolling hills and endless horizon, reminded me of Teletubbies! As we drove across the vast prairie (at 75 mph!), I inhaled the natural beauty, and I began thinking about taking inventory of the populations that lived in the precious shaded areas where the bottom of one hill meets the next and comparing it to the populations that thrive in the open grasses. The prairie is enchanting, and the landscape is beautiful. This land moves you.

Our family was welcomed with open arms by the university and Salina community. This town of 50,000 holds some of the kindest people in the Midwest. KWU staff and administrators, neighbors, friends, people from church, the friend who walks the prairie with me are just a few who helped us realize what a special place Salina is by making us feel so at home in a very short time.

Fast forward eight months, and while I was staring at four raised beds waiting to be planted on the grounds of University United Methodist Church, across the street from Kansas Wesleyan, I was dreaming of what this small garden could someday become. We were talking and dreaming of a new project that would transform not only the church and the university, but also the Salina community. The coalescing of this small garden, the Mentor Project and the new Community Resilience Hub elicited a new kind of energy to me that I had never experienced.

So much has developed over the course of the past year that has moved the Community Resilience Hub project forward. Inspiring conversations with community leaders, nonprofits, schools, local and government officials, national and global organizations have generated tremendous energy, excitement and possibilities around our model of cultivating solidarity around community resilience.

We have created a model that has breadth and depth like no other initiative in which I have ever been involved. I see the CRH as a convener, a place that brings people to the table to find common ground, to innovate and to create solutions for a better world. Our framework focuses on education, action, and advocacy to build resilience in collaborative ways to tackle complex problems and catalyze change.

From the perspective of the university community, the CRH is about interdisciplinary collaboration. We want to provide training opportunities in critical areas related to sustainability and resiliency to complement majors and prepare students for relevant work after graduation. Our interdisciplinary faculty team is generating solutions and exciting educational opportunities that can transcend every major on campus.

We have chosen to focus on food first, so our current initiatives address food insecurity and focus on regenerative agriculture. We are designing new academic offerings in Agro-ecology for existing students as well as a certificate for farmers who wish to make the transition from conventional agriculture to regenerative agriculture. We’ve partnered with the Rodale Institute to bring its RIFT training program and a Rodale Research Center to Salina. This regenerative organic research can be applied to the Central Plains biome to create solutions with and for our Kansas farmers.

We are working together with partners on a Local Food Corridor between Salina and Wichita, to increase local food production, aggregation, and distribution, where a farmer grows for their own community, shortening the supply chain. This project will establish a mobile farmers market, following the Common Ground model, that buys local and moves the produce to food deserts. This initiative is about food justice, ensuring everyone has access to healthy food.

In August we will offer our second Civil Discourse Training to fight the negative effects of polarization in governance, education, and communities. (August 8 and 9, 2023; there is still time to register). CRH is equipping students, faculty, staff, and our community with tools to engage in healthy dialogue. The objective is to find common ground and work together as a community to advocate on local, state and federal levels. Together, we can create an environment where transitioning to a more holistic way of farming–a grounded world vision–is possible.

The CRH can be a catalyst in promoting diversity. I come from Brazil, the country that has one of the highest biodiversity rates in the planet. We can and should use nature’s wisdom in the way we think about our society. Just as more biodiversity results in more creative adaptations to difficult challenges in all biomes, more diversity across anything–be it a biome, people in a meeting, grasses in our lawns, bacteria in your gut–always results in healthier, more resilient environments. I see the CRH as a (bio) diversity weaver, promoting the convening of different change agents, getting everyone’s voice to the table to address the biggest challenge of our time: a less destructive, more sustainable, resilient way of life.

My dreams for the CRH extends beyond food. We will use research, tools, knowledge and resources to examine the campus in the same way we’re looking at the farm. How are we using energy and water? In what other areas can we be less destructive and more sustainable? And when we have completed that work, we can start expanding this model to the community. Salina is a small but mighty town that embeds so much art and culture (which in my opinion is the “gateway drug” to innovation), and has unique, open-minded people, which sets the stage for CRH and KWU to be change agents for good.

I can’t wait for these ideas to unfold and transform our campus and the broader community. I also know they will leave indelible and proud memories in this chapter of my life.