All Gusties are familiar with Gustavus’s “five pillars”: service, community, justice, excellence and faith. The Gustavus Adolphus College Association of Congregations (GACAC), awards distinctive Gustavus students who have contributed by strengthening the partnership with the congregations of the association. The award concentrates on the commitment to serve others though volunteer work, involvement in the church and astonishing professional accomplishments.
Only Gustavus alumni or former students are eligible for the award. “The purpose of [the award is] to keep before us things that are central … and highlight what’s going right,” Grady St. Dennis, director of church relations, said.
“[It’s] about giving back to the community at large,” Assistant Director of Church Relations Marilyn Beyer said.
Last year, Susan J. Alex ’71 was recognized for her interpreting services for foreign medical mission trips to Nicaragua, Peru, Honduras and other countries. The previous year, Mary Ellen Kitundu ‘65 and Dennis Loftstorm ’51 were acknowledged for their work in International Health Partners and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania. This year’s Service Award will go to Travis ’00 and his brother Nathan ’02 Dahlke, for their non-profit organization Hands for Harvest.
The Dahlkes started their service project in 2009 by convincing their parents to donate an acre of their farmland to the brothers’ venture, which they entitled “Hands for Harvest.”
When Travis Dahlke was a student at Gustavus, he would go home on the weekends to help out at the family farm, which is only 30 miles north of the college. “[I]n a sense, the “volunteer” farm work I was doing for my parents through my college career parallels the volunteer work I do now, except I’m bringing a few friends along to help, and we’re growing different crops now,” he said.
Their intention with Hands for Harvest was to recruit volunteers to farm the land and donate the harvest to local food shelves. The initial 200 or so volunteers were recruited from their local church and other organizations. They planted and harvested more than six tons of potatoes, which were donated to five different food shelves. This year, the organization harvested five tons of produce total, diversified to include carrots and onions, and donated to eight locations.
Beyer hopes that the timeliness of a food-related award will increase its effect on campus. This year’s Nobel Conference was focused on making food good, and Gustavus’s own Big Hill Farm has increased in not only harvest size but visibility this year, with much of the produce being prepared and served by Dining Services. “[It’s] a great connection for all three of them,” Beyer said.
Both brothers hold full-time jobs but value their weekends at the farm. “[I]t’s far more rewarding to serve others than it is to be self-absorbed in a career where you’re wondering what good you’ve accomplished at the end of the day,” Travis Dahlke said.
“The beauty of Hands for Harvest is that you see the appreciation of people at the food shelves when the donations come in, and you also get to interact with people of all different backgrounds on the volunteer fields. Working in IT, you don’t always see or feel the appreciation of what you’ve accomplished in a day, so Hands for Harvest is so much more rewarding in that sense,” Travis Dahlke said.
“Students can connect really, really well,” Beyer said, to the young ages of the brothers. “Maybe you’ll see Travis and Nathan … and think ‘hey, I could do that,’” St. Dennis said.
Hands for Harvest, created by Gustavus graduates, has has proven to be an effective outreach for current Gustavus students. The Gustavus Men’s Basketball team volunteered with the organization this year, helping plant in the spring and harvest in the fall.
Alex Ewing, junior history major and basketball player, loved the experience. “It was cool to see the results of our work,” he said. “It’s also great that it was going to local food shelves.”
Travis Dahlke values the continuing contact with Gustavus. “The support from Gustavus has been amazing, and we’re humbled to be recognized at all. What feels the best is we feel that Gustavus is helping to continue to get the word out about our organization, when recruiting volunteers is the core of what we need to do to be successful,” he said.
“Without people writing about us or talking about us, recruiting is unbelievably challenging. The additional support of the Men’s Basketball team this year not only helped us get a lot of work on the farm done, but has set a great example for other groups at Gustavus, as well as other schools in the area, to do the same.”
While the brothers are on campus to receive the Service Award, they will also be interacting with current Gusties. Monday morning, they will be having breakfast with the Gustavus Big Hill Farm interns. After their award is presented during Chapel, they will be honored at a luncheon, during which they will get to talk about their venture in more depth.
As for the future, the brothers hope to expand their venture to the Twin Cities metro area. Any Gustavus students who might have access to a plot of land in the metro area should contact the brothers. “We’ll be looking for areas as small as 1/8 or 1/4 of an acre to as large as 1 acre,” Travis Dahlke said.
In addition, manual labor is always needed. “Whether you’re part of a group or a sports team, or just want to get a group of friends together for an afternoon of fun volunteering, look us up next spring when we’ll need help planting another crop,” Travis Dahlke said.