Tackling Food Equity in Her Own Back Yard

This summer, international studies major Tram Luong ’14 helped alleviate the food equity problem in Hartford through an internship with Summer of Solutions (SOS) Hartford. The program trains young leaders to work with Hartford communities to create and sustain school and community gardens that provide a source of fresh produce for city residents. SOS Hartford is part of the Summer of Solutions, a program that strives to build just, sustainable, and prosperous communities throughout the nation.

“I was drawn into the program because it was something new, something I was not used to,” she says. “I also hoped that by participating in SOS Hartford, I could break down stereotypes that people in Hartford have about the Trinity community, and vice versa.”

Luong spent two months digging, planting, and weeding, working with fellow interns and Hartford community members to establish a vegetable garden at the Annie Fisher Montessori School in Hartford. “This program is so special, because we’re actually building something physical and adding value to neighborhoods,” says Luong. SOS Hartford has additional gardens at the Burns School and on Zion and Broad Streets, the latter in partnership with Trinity.

She also dug into the academic side of urban agriculture, studying the subject of city gardens from the perspective of immigrant communities with Associate Professor of International Studies Janet Bauer. “I really loved this part of my internship, because it allowed me to examine the connection between the food justice movement and international relations,” she says.

In addition to providing a source of nutritious food, Luong found through her research that urban gardens can provide ways for immigrants to link with their countries of origin by growing traditional produce and sharing that food across generations.

“Tram so impressed me as someone who wanted to get as much out of her experience as possible,” says Bauer.

Luong also conducted panel discussions with Billings Forge and Hartford Food System, nonprofit organizations working to improve the lives of city residents, and she met with NGO leaders from Hartford to talk about urban planning.

An avid photographer and videographer, she chronicled the day-to-day experiences of her internship and created a documentary about SOS Hartford that is posted on YouTube. Luong recently won first prize in the Center for Urban and Global Studies Photography Contest at Trinity with photos she took on a trip to her native Vietnam. It was through the Center that she learned about the SOS internship, and she is grateful for a grant from the Student Government Association that covered her housing expenses during the summer.

Growing up in Vietnam, Luong saw New England as the embodiment of the American Dream. “When I thought about the States, I thought about New England,” she says. She knew she wanted to attend college in the region and “fell in love” with Trinity through the Web and brochures.

“Trinity is providing me with the kind of liberal arts education I could not find elsewhere,” she says. Luong says she quickly felt at home at Trinity, delving into her academics and becoming involved with the College’s International House. “My professors are activists themselves, and their classes are reshaping the way I think about international issues,” she says. “I’m learning things that will help me help my country.”

Luong hopes to work in international development and cultural preservation. “My dream job would be to work for UNESCO.”  Through a competitive SIT Study Abroad program, she’s spending the 2012-2013 academic year traveling to Tanzania, India, New Zealand, Mexico, and Guatemala with a cohort of 32 students, examining the challenges of maintaining a just and sustainable world in the face of human development.

“I’m looking forward to a challenging year,” she said, days before leaving for her trip. “I hope to explore more about my future career and myself.”