The Spirit of Serving Others

It was a typical Saturday morning at The Citadel. The sun was out, my roommate was asleep and I was tying up my boots to go volunteer somewhere called Sweetgrass Garden. The name alone was reason to go there, but its mission of providing produce to local food distribution centers, educating the public about sustainable farming and simply giving food to those in need really struck a chord in my heart.

Sweetgrass Garden was founded by Dr. George Taylor and Dale Snyder nearly a decade ago with a generous donation of land from a Kiawah Island resident. Last year, Sweetgrass grew and donated about 6,000 pounds of produce to charitable food distribution agencies in South Carolina.

When I arrived at Sweetgrass, I was amazed by what I saw. There were hugelkultur bins overflowing with fruits and vegetables; there were goats and ducks roaming around, roosters chasing volunteers (little did they know we were there to help), and a pile of wood and plastic stacked up in a corner. Jennifer Wicker was the backbone of the operation, and after we introduced ourselves, she informed us that we were going to build a greenhouse that day using the pile of wood and plastic materials.

My jaw dropped. I remember the feeling of excitement because what we were doing would go a long way to help people in need. But then a wave of doubt hit me. What did I know about construction?  And yet, after meticulously planning, we all came together and created a wonderful greenhouse. More than anything I’d ever done before, building the greenhouse with my fellow cadets and Jennifer that day opened my eyes to the impact of service and giving to others, and I left a changed person. Three years after the construction of that greenhouse, Sweetgrass Garden is alive with two greenhouses, hugelkultur bins everywhere and more goats.

Sweetgrass produces a wide variety of crops. Strawberries and blueberries are at their finest in the spring. Heads of cabbage bloom in abundance thereafter, and the most beautiful selection of vibrant red tomatoes and peppers ripen in the summer. Then there are the goats, great companions and partners in yoga, but more importantly a prime resource for clearing land without the use of chemicals. Lastly, Sweetgrass wouldn’t be Sweetgrass without the bees. Bees are a sign of a well-functioning ecosystem, and Sweetgrass is just that. The bees of Sweetgrass Garden actually drive the amount of food donated each year because of their pollination. The bees pollinate everything on the farm and, in doing so, produce some of the best all-natural honey and honeycomb that I have ever tasted.

On Johns Island, South Carolina, cadet volunteers work at Sweetgrass Garden, a farm dedicated to expanding food access and sustainable farming. Credit: Cameron Pollack / The Citadel

I have been volunteering at Sweetgrass for almost four years now, spending a summer at the farm and helping out at least every other weekend. In that time, I have helped build two greenhouses and assemble multiple hugelkultur bins, and I have participated in a number of sustainability and conservation projects. I have walked miles and miles feeding goats, and I have learned that farming is not just about growing crops—it’s about the cultivation of human beings. The staff and volunteers at Sweetgrass Garden demonstrate their true dedication not only to service but to educating every person who visits the farm.

I grew up in a family of nine. We worked day in and day out, barely making ends meet. It was always the little things that mattered. Fast forward to my career at The Citadel:  the memories of others helping me and those I love propelled me to the path I am on today. From my initial journey in high school when I first decided to participate in an Adopt-A-Road program to the volunteer work at Sweetgrass Garden, I have learned that the impact I have on those I serve is immeasurable. Nothing else could match the feeling I get from making a difference in the lives of others.

Sweetgrass Garden is one of the organizations where I feel that I derive more benefit than the people I serve. The experience has helped transform me into a more patient, flexible and responsible leader. I cherish the ability to influence and help others, and to see community service as a benefit to my personal growth, not just another obligation on my schedule. Sweetgrass and my community service expeditions have helped to shape me in ways I didn’t know possible, challenging me to do better and be a cadet who embodies the spirit of serving others.

Jeremy Walker is a senior cadet and Bravo Company commander from Tampa, Florida. A double major in criminal justice and psychology with a fine arts minor, Walker is a member of the track and field team. He plans to commission in the U.S. Marine Corps upon graduation in May.