Planting seeds of change

St Paul's GreenHouseWhen Lexi Salt took on a small plot of land at St. Paul’s University College of the University of Waterloo, she did it because she wanted to make a tangible and lasting difference — but she had no idea of what the seeds she planted would really grow into.

Lexi, who lived at St. Paul’s her entire undergraduate career as an International Development student and who considers St. Paul’s as her second home, was part of the inaugural cohort of St. Paul’s GreenHouse in the fall of 2013. During her three GreenHouse terms, she was involved with two different projects. One project addressed rape culture and gender equity, and the other involved her being hired by Meal Exchange as the Campus Coordinator of UWaterloo for the Ontario Campus Food Project.

In this role, she promoted local and sustainable food, and helped organize field trips to farms and local food days. However, she decided she wanted to make a more lasting impact, so she founded the St. Paul’s Community Garden.

Not only did this garden benefit the local food community, but it also created national policy change in the food services corporation, Chartwells. Chartwells agreed to buy produce from the community garden at market value, allowing the proceeds to be reinvested in the garden. This partnership resulted in a national policy change that has involved the creation of the Campus or Community Garden Guide and the establishment of community gardens on other university campuses.

Although the garden was originally small, it was a real opportunity for Lexi to go beyond the more theoretical program manager background to make a practical impact, something that Lexi says was one of the best parts of being part of the GreenHouse community. Recently, a UWaterloo community member donated another quarter-acre of land to use for the garden.

Knowing how to literally get her hands dirty was also an asset for Lexi in her eight-month field placement at the end of her International Development degree. Lexi worked in Senegal for the Conseil national de concertation et coopération des ruraux (CNCR), the national council for cooperation among rural Senegalese farmers. This agricultural organization, which began in 1993 (the same year Lexi was born), was the first Senagalese agricultural organization to give a voice to peasant farmers.

Lexi and co-workers in Senegal

Lexi and the members of CNCR: Tandia, Thierno, Thioye, Lexi, Babacar and Marius (left to right).

During her field placement, Lexi served as the advisor on organizational development at the “Collège des femmes,” a support and advocacy group for female farmers, many of whom were in their 50s and 60s. Among her responsibilities, Lexi created an organization diagnostic for the Collège, developed communication tools and created a logo. Her biggest accomplishment was creating an action plan to help the women farmers meet their goals.

Lexi and the members of Collège des femmes

The members of Collège de femmes: Ndèye, Marie Therèse, Thiero, Lexi, Julie, Aisha, Adama, Seynabou and Khady (left to right and top to bottom).

Lexi says her community garden work gave her credibility with the women farmers. Her experience at GreenHouse, however, gave her a wide variety of practical skills that she was able to bring to her work – organizational development, project management, knowing how to talk to people and how to translate ideas into action.

Without GreenHouse, Lexi believes she might have worked in a more typical international development setting, but says she now realizes that she doesn’t have to work for an NGO to have an impact on the world.

“GreenHouse significantly positively affected both my professional and personal development,” she says. “I wish it had been around sooner. I’m really passionate about telling people about GreenHouse because I know it has the capacity to help so many students — but many people still don’t know about it.”

This spring, Lexi has returned to GreenHouse in a different capacity — as Program Coordinator, helping build community and managing administration. She loves working with passionate students and seeing the program continue to grow and progress.

“Who should come to GreenHouse? People who are really passionate and even angry at how messed up the world is and who aren’t content with putting their head in sand. Changemakers and innovators. People who have never considered themselves to be entrepreneurs but who care passionately about something. People who don’t necessarily have ideas but who have the fire to make something happen.”

Hear Kwame Ansong's podcast with Lexi Salt

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