A Tribute to a BJP Pioneer, Real Food “Mom,” and All-Around Hopkins Food Hero!

It all started with this email over two years ago…

From: Wei-ting Chen <wchen47@jhu.edu>

Date: February 3, 2011 12:08:40 PM EST

Subject: Feb 9: Homewood screenings of food system documentaries


The Graduate Environmental Network, the Graduate Representative Organization and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future are screening two short documentaries on the food system, one focuses on Baltimore while the other contrasts various meat production methods. The screenings will take place on Wednesday, Feb 9 at the Arellano Theater in Levering Hall. Doors open at 5:45 PM, screenings begin at 6. The films will last approximately an hour in total, followed by an hour of Q & A with the producers and filmmakers.   Refreshments will be served immediately following the Q&A. We are reaching out to all Homewood faculty and student groups that may be interested in the topics and help promote the event.  A flier is attached.

Thank you in advance for helping us spread the word. 


Wei-ting Chen

Graduate Student, Sociology

Graduate Environmental Network

…and a unique graduate student who was actually interested in working with our undergraduate student group, Real Food Hopkins, after meeting me at that momentous movie screening in February 2011. And when I say work, I mean, show up at all of our somewhat disorganized and almost entirely freshman-led (aka we had no idea what we were doing) meetings, offering helpful organizing and strategic advice from day one.

From: Wei-ting Chen <a.weiting@gmail.com>

Date: February 17, 2011 3:53:55 PM EST

To: Raychel Santo <rsanto1@jhu.edu>

Subject: Re: Meeting tonight: Note one-time location change

Hi Raychel,

It is really unfortunate that I have to miss the meeting again this week, but I am going to the meeting with Ian and Larry.  So I will learn more about the garden today.

I do have a few questions for RFC: Do you think it will be divided into plots or will it be set up in rows?  Would RFC entertain the idea of having group-sponsored plots? I think some graduate students may be really interested in that. I used to live on an agricultural campus, and  I have seen friendly small vegetable gardening competitions where different groups take up responsibilities for maintaining their plots, and that actually led to a really well-maintained garden. However, this doesn’t mean that some plots will become neglected, once people become involved with community gardens, they always end up sharing responsibilities and efforts.

Also, I suspect that many members of the JHU community (particularly graduate students, faculty and staff) don’t really participate in the Homewood campus ‘food system,’ do we know what the ‘state of campus dining’ is as it pertains to the entire Homewood community? If not, would it be worthwhile to create a survey(unless this is what the Real Food Calculator does)? I would be happy to work with folks on that.

These are two ideas that came up in a discussion between GrEN members, so I thought I would bring them up with you/RFC crew.



2000+ (no kidding!!!) emails, later, I sit here reflecting on everything that has happened since these initial exchanges, and all I can say is wow.

Without Wei-ting, there would be no BJP. Yes, a group of five of us spearheaded the official launch of our garden. However, prior to receiving the current parcel of land on which the BJP rests, we had to demonstrate that our group would be able to upkeep (to Hopkins beautification committee standards) the garden throughout the growing season. As none of us students were here that first summer (or even the next, in fact), Wei-ting nearly single-handedly kept our smaller original garden alive in our absence, thereby earning us the respect of JHU admins.

Even if we had somehow secured this plot of land on our own, we would never have been able to attain the level of interdisciplinary, community-wide support without Wei-ting’s incredible networking ability and visionary motivation. Wei-ting has pushed us to new heights throughout the way, a fact that surely led us to earn the Baltimore City Master Gardeners’ Best New Community Garden Award last year and the JHU Office of Sustainability’s Three-Legged Stool Award this past spring.

Without Wei-ting, our three-year-strong 100 Mile Meal may have been a one-time failure. How else would a bunch of naïve 19 year olds – mostly vegetarians – figured out how to source our first entirely-local, chicken-containing three-course meal for 85 people and proceed to cook it in a one-range kitchen? Did I mention that this all occurred DURING exam season? (Wei-ting received the affectionate title of “Real Food Mom” after she led that hectic cooking spree to success).

Wei-ting has stuck with us while we went through many garden leadership transitions over the years – both at an administrative and student level. She suffered the scrutiny of her dissertation advisor after spending an exorbitant amount of her time occupied by garden-related meetings, phone calls, and (endless!) emails. She put up with frustrating legal, financial, administrative, and logistical hurdles to getting the garden started and keep it functioning. She came with the practical knowledge of how to actually grow food, which many of us who were involved admittedly knew nothing about beforehand. Moreover, Wei-ting fueled our potluck garden-planning sessions with delicious homemade dishes while serving as a pseudo-counselor listening to complaints about our trivial undergrad problems (from organic chemistry midterms and kitchen-less-dorm rooms to postgrad plans and senioritis). Overall, Wei-ting contributed AT LEAST 15-20 hrs/week on the garden over the past two years!

And remember… she did all of this for FREE!

As an ultimate testament to her behind-the-scenes work, I was only able to find a few pictures with Wei-ting in them among all of our garden/Real Food pictures throughout the years. (She was usually the one documenting our triumphs with her handy iPhone!)

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A shout-out also goes to Baptiste for letting us borrow Wei-ting on so many weekday evenings and weekend mornings/afternoons for all of our garden efforts. We are glad you joined us in helping bring the BJP to life!

On behalf of everyone who has benefited from all of your hard work in helping us get to where we are today, THANK YOU! We wish you and Baptiste the best in Atlanta!



p.s. To all of you who would like to help us celebrate Wei-ting and Baptiste’s departure, please come out to the garden picnic party this Sunday, July 21 at 4:30 PM in the garden! Bring a dish to share and a friendly mood, as we say goodbye to some of our garden’s best volunteers.


One response to “A Tribute to a BJP Pioneer, Real Food “Mom,” and All-Around Hopkins Food Hero!

  1. Reposted the tribute to Wei-ting on my facebook page. Really a great job in accomplishing a challenging mission. Wei-ting is inspiring for her passion and ability to motivate the masses. She will be missed. We want regular updates on how the PHD research is going! Karen

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