Nicole Breazeale, associate professor of sociology at Western Kentucky University-Glasgow, recently received the seventh annual President's Award for Sustainability, which honors an individual who exhibits excellence in supporting WKU's commitment to sustainability.
“I was very excited and honored,” Breazeale said. “I just want to say how grateful I am to have landed at WKU and at the Glasgow campus, and how proud I am to be associated with the students and faculty there and in the community.”
When it comes to sustainability, Breazeale said she tries to integrate it into all of the different classes she teaches and in all of the community work that they do in Barren County.
“It's really important to think about the long-term consequences of the way we live, develop and even teach,” she said. “So it's about thinking about what we can do now that will help us to thrive and also help our future children to thrive as well."
Alex Breazeale smiles while on a hay ride during the fall festival on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016 at WKU Glasgow.
Last year, Breazeale's classes were “deeply integrated into the work over at Project Breaking Ground,” she said, which is a program that allowed inmates at the Barren County Detention Center to build and maintain a community garden.
Breazeale said some of her former students joined forces with community members this summer to expand the community garden behind the Bunche Center.
“It's a huge 3/4-acre community garden,” she said. “It's flourishing with perennials and annuals and they've been using those inside the Bunche Center for some of their meals and people who come to eat the meals at the Bunche Center come out to help maintain that garden.
“So we've been working to help bring in the funding for that project this summer and provide support for that project."
Nicole Breazeale, associate professor of sociology at Western Kentucky University-Glasgow, poses with her Fall 2016 Sociology of Food, Community and Social Change class when they kicked off their Fresh Food For All Campaign at the Bunche Center in December 2016. “We believe fresh food is a human right,” Breazeale said. “The idea is to spread awareness about why local, fresh food is imperative for all people of Barren County to be able to access, and to encourage our local officials to commit to making this a reality.”
Breazeale said they are going to continue to work with the community garden this year and that one of her classes, Sociology of Food, Community and Social Change, has been promoting a Fresh Food For All campaign.
“The idea behind the Fresh Food campaign, that my students developed, is that fresh food should be a human right,” she said. “So we're interested in Barren County and expanding that conversation about the need for fresh affordable food for all residents.
“It was really exciting to be part of all of these classes. The students that I have and I work with are incredibly hard-working, and they are really committed to their community and towards taking care of the natural environment."
Nicole Breazeale, associate professor of Sociology at Western Kentucky University-Glasgow, poses with the 2016-17 Greentoppers made up of students and community members.
Breazeale is an advisor of the Greentoppers, a student-led sustainability organization.
“We have had a very active chapter of the Greentoppers on campus in Glasgow,” Breazeale said. “And there have been different students who have stepped up to really promote that organization year after year.
“I think last year we had about a dozen students involved in that. They now have annual events that they put on, including the local pumpkin festival, as well as supporting all sorts of smaller events, not just on campus but in the community.”
Breazeale said the Greentoppers came up with the idea for Project Breaking Ground.
“That was a student idea,” she said. “So I think it's provided a place for our students to really get passionate about their own ideas and to see those through."
Community members join inmates from the Barren County Detention Center for Breaking Ground: A Sustainable Jail Garden/Food Justice Project last September.
WKU Glasgow Regional Chancellor Sally Ray previously told the Glasgow Daily Times that the Greentoppers do a really good job engaging with the local community.
“They recognize the value of local community development,” Ray said. “It's so important. Most of our students are from this region or from this community, so putting an emphasis on that is so important.
“That's one of the great things about a regional campus. We engage locally.”
Kaitlyn Burks, a WKU Glasgow student and a member of the Greentoppers, previously told the Daily Times that said she was inspired to join the Greentopppers while she was taking one of Breazeale's classes.
“She was very influential and opened my eyes about a lot of the aspects of a sustainable community,” she said.
Western Kentucky University-Glasgow student Kaitlyn Burks paints a pumpkin to look like Frankenstein’s monster during the fall festival last October at WKU Glasgow.
In a press release, WKU Provost David Lee spoke about Breazeale's commitment to sustainability.
“Dr. Breazeale is an expert in engaging students, faculty, staff and community organizations to work together to improve society and promote a culture of stewardship,” Lee said. “Her most impressive effort at advancing sustainability is how she has integrated major community-based projects into her ‘Sociology of Agriculture and Food’ classes by partnering with various grassroots organizations such as the Community Farm Alliance to support small farmers and promote a just food system in Kentucky.”
Breazeale said community gardens are a great place for people to meet each other on an even playing field.
“You can have incarcerated individuals, you can have professors, you can have political officials, you can have people who are eating at the soup kitchen, you can have farmers all working side by side on a single project that is relaxing, enjoyable and it puts them all on the same level to get to know each other,” she said. “The particular type of community gardening that we've been doing is getting people excited about new ways of doing farming that conserves water and resources, which is something everybody is excited about.”