Recipe for Service

In honor of October 24 being Make a Difference Day, Rollins is spotlighting a senior whose leadership spans environmental, agricultural, and humanitarian pursuits.

Courtney Banker ’16 (left) participates in a Rollins Immersion trip in Tampa, FL. (Photo by Scott Cook) Courtney Banker ’16 (left) participates in a Rollins Immersion trip in Tampa, FL. (Photo by Scott Cook)

The youngest of four children, Courtney Banker ’16 learned early to fend for herself in the kitchen, more or less becoming the de facto family chef out of necessity.

“By the time my parents got to me,” she says, “they were so overwhelmed and tired of cooking that every night was make-it-yourself night—like Iron Chef Challenge all the time. I found cooking to be therapeutic and food to be a really big part of social bonding. I wanted to go to culinary school, but my parents were adamant that I attend a liberal arts college … and I’m glad I did.”

At Rollins, Banker has been a leader since her first year, when she joined the Sustainability and Immersion Planning Team. Since then, she’s coordinated student Immersion trips to Jacksonville (marine conservation) and Tampa (organic farming), interned at a homeless mission in Detroit, spent semesters abroad in Ecuador and Vietnam, and co-published a paper on Ted Talks and public education with Assistant Communications Professor Ted Gournelos in the 2013 Florida Journal of Communications.

As a senior, Banker is president of EcoRollins and, drawing on her foodie roots, manages the College’s new urban farm, located between Elizabeth Hall and Lake Virginia. On Thursday, she and her fellow “farmers” harvested their first batch of lettuce, which was soon used as a lunch ingredient for diners at the Marketplace.

The farm’s 11-bed garden features a variety of other plants and vegetables—from tomatoes, corn, eggplants, and cucumbers to herbs, mints, fennel, and peppers. In its first full semester of operation, the farm is also being used by a sustainable agriculture class and the Hidden Landscapes of Food course. Banker envisions a day when students, faculty, staff, and the community at large—regardless of gardening experience—can work the soil together.  

“Laying out a comprehensive plan for the farm has been a huge challenge,” says Ann M. Francis, coordinator of the Environmental Studies Sustainability Program. “But Courtney is always moving the conversation forward, thinking about what is best for the farm, the students, and the campus. Education, community service, local food, collaboration—these are all part of her role as a farm manager. She knows how to use her talents to enrich community engagement.”

While Banker humbly admits she’s “not much of a farmer,” she does know a thing or two about the sustainable side of agriculture and how that intersects with social responsibility. Her senior thesis, Adjusting Issues of Contamination in Our Recycling Stream, is focusing on how to keep beverages, food waste and other non-recyclable materials—plastic grocery bags, for instance—from entering the mix. In her role with EcoRollins, Banker’s goal is to make the campus a better steward of the environment. Through speakers, workshops, discussions and hands-on events, she says, “We provide a space to be a think and do tank.” 

“Growing up in Florida on the beaches,” Banker adds, “I saw what the environment can do for the soul. The lifestyles that seem to fulfill us the most really don’t end up degrading the environment. A lot of sustainability issues, in fact, make economic sense as well.”

As for what awaits after graduation this spring, “That’s the golden question,” Banker says. Ideally, she’d like to work a few years for a nonprofit or public agency before returning to graduate school—maybe to become a lawyer like her father, maybe to pursue marketing or social enterprise. Involvement with community development projects (farmers markets, urban planning, and transportation) also carries interest.

One thing is certain: Although she still enjoys cooking—and running an urban farm—she no longer wants to be a chef.

“When I got out of high school,” Banker says, “I was certainly excited about food issues, wanted to travel, and was passionate about the environment. Rollins provided the perfect space to amplify all those interests, and in so many ways the College has supported everything I’ve set out to do.”