Maggie Griffin '17

Harvesting for Health

Ohio State student connects social work and farming

Growing an idea from the ground up

Maggie Griffin remembers the moment she was inspired to take action.

The Ohio State senior took a study break late one night and walked to a nearby convenience store. Inside, she saw a family doing their weekly shopping, relying on frozen meals because they didn't have access to fresh, healthful produce.

It just so happened that Maggie, a student in the College of Social Work, was writing a paper about food insecurity. Maggie always knew the need was there. According to the nation's largest hunger-relief group, Feeding America, 16 percent of Ohio residents are food insecure. But until that moment, Maggie had never put a face to the issue.

"There were real people behind those numbers," she said.

Maggie had found her passion, but she needed some help. With the power of Ohio State to make connections, she carried out her vision.

Maggie had an idea to create community fridges that would be placed in neighborhoods around Columbus. She emailed Michelle Kaiser, an assistant professor in the College of Social work, who had experience with community gardens. Kaiser connected Maggie with Ohio State's Waterman Agricultural and Natural Resources Laboratory, a working farm and research lab where Maggie could actually grow and harvest the produce.

She was more motivated than ever. Maggie submitted her proposal for the inaugural President’s Prize, an initiative created by Ohio State President Michael V. DrakeThe prize provides a $50,000 living stipend and $50,000 for project expenses to help ambitious students who have plans to transform communities. Maggie couldn’t believe it when she was picked as one of two winners to receive the funding.

Set up for real change, Maggie worked with Kaiser to put her plan into action. OSU Extension’s Master Gardener Program gave her the farming skills she needed to plant and harvest crops. With the help of fellow students, Maggie grew fresh fruits and vegetables and delivered them to social service centers throughout the city, including a center for pregnant mothers and a community health clinic.

"Seeing that first person being able to take that bag of produce home, and knowing that through this program we were able to make an impact, is incredibly emotional," she said.

In the first four months of the program, Maggie delivered close to 1,000 pounds of fresh produce to her neighbors in need. She's created a thriving program that can continue for years to come.

"I was lucky enough to find my passion, but then Ohio State was there to support me," she said. "I didn't know that I was capable of doing anything like this."

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Creating lasting connections

Ohio State researcher Michelle Kaiser has spent her career helping communities in need get the food they deserve. Her expertise was just what Maggie needed to grow an idea into a real solution for Columbus residents.

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Columbus Free Clinic

Ohio State's impact extends beyond campus into the surrounding communities. The Columbus Free Clinic, a community health clinic just north of the Ohio State campus, is one of the organizations receiving produce from Maggie's Unity Fridge project. Students from the colleges of Social Work, Pharmacy and Medicine, with assistance from faculty and other volunteers, run the clinic.

The clinic's doors are open to patients from the community. The students treat them for a variety of illnesses and also work to educate them about a healthy lifestyle, which includes eating fruits and vegetables.

"Maggie's produce is having a huge impact on the clinic's ability to address chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension, where having a healthy diet is so important," said Ohio State's Dr. Robert Cooper, the faculty advisor for the clinic.

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Finding the right chemistry

When Matt Teegarden first stepped foot on Ohio State's campus in 2008, he wasn't sure where his path would lead him. But during the last 10 years, he's found connections here that have inspired him to make the world a better place.

Teegarden, who earned both his bachelor's and master's degrees at Ohio State, is working on his PhD. Here, he can combine his passions for food, science and medicine to study how the chemistry of food could help prevent disease.

"I always had an interest in health, but really wanted to stay within the field of food science. The environment at Ohio State allowed me to do both," Teegarden said. His research focuses on whether food products made from berries can slow the growth of cancer cells in the mouth.

Teegarden, who studies in the Department of Food Science, collaborates regularly with colleagues in the College of Public Health, College of Medicine and others.

"I think it's really unique here that we have our medical campus in the same physical space as our ag campus," he said. "It really allows that collaboration to happen very easily."

Whether you're planning to change an entire country's car industry or treat cancer patients through movement, you'll find the support to make it happen at Ohio State. Mimi Lamantia is another student who found her place at Ohio State.

Read Mimi's Story View All Stories