Written by Vickie Valadez
Various members from the SU community are finally getting their green thumbs dirty. Southwestern students, faculty and staff came together last Saturday morning to lay down mulch and soil and sow seeds in the new Community Garden. They have met at the garden behind Mundy for the last two weeks, creating the garden from scratch.
The first week was spent measuring seven square plots and laying down cinderblocks that will be the walls of the future plants’ new home. The following week, soil was added to the plots and organic material was arranged to create a natural path that would help keep moisture in the plot soil.
In development of the project, Environmental Studies professor Gavin Van Horn describes himself as a liaison between student interest and faculty-staff interest. “As the semester started, I heard from students and Laura Hobgood-Oster about how there was a great group of students interested in getting a community garden going,” Van Horn said.
“Then, Jeanette Holliday in the SU library sent out an email in the fall to faculty-staff in order to gauge interest about a garden. So there were many people who were interested, including faculty, staff, and students. It’s all arisen sort of organically.”
Van Horn and others on the project are inspired by the ways in which they can grow along with the community garden. “I can’t really express how important and fun I think it is to grow your own food. I think food is probably the way that people can most easily and directly draw connections between local and larger environmental issues,” Van Horn said.
“It’s a small step toward a sustainable lifestyle but it is also a pleasure to watch what you’ve planted grow, to have some practical experience (and experimentation) in gardening, to consider issues about native plants, local foods, seasonal cycles, etc., “Van Horn said. “There’s also a measure of tangible satisfaction, which counters tendencies toward academic doldrums, especially when you eat what you’ve grown.”
Bob Mathis, associate vice president for facilities and campus services, began collaborating with individuals in the SU community to develop the garden eight years ago. Students attending at that time received a grant and built “Charlie’s Grove,” the small area near the observatory with an in-ground chessboard, a stone stream and native plants, and the “bowl,” the natural cove area immediately adjacent to the greenhouse, intended for teach-ins.
Gardeners thus far have sown seeds or transplanted sprouts for those fit to plant this time of year, including onions, spinach, carrots, lettuce and various herbs. The four trees presented to speaker Wangari Maathai at the Shilling Lecture will also be planted in her honor. There are plans to build a spiral herb garden, as well as utilize the other gardening plots in Dorothy Lord Center and Herman Brown/Moody-Shearn.
The new garden sits next to an older circular garden and the greenhouse, both of which are intended for use in the community garden as well. “We will use the beds to plant vegetables which we will give back to the community,” Mathis said. “We will still use the remaining beds for the propagation of native plants, as was its initial purpose.”
Also next to the garden are two fragrant, rotting piles of food waste. The compost piles consist primarily of fruit and vegetable scraps and surprisingly do not smell bad if properly maintained. Eventually the material, once fully broken down by vermin-composting (composting using worms) and natural decomposition, will be added to the plots to add extra nutrients to the soil.
Long-term goals for in the garden project have already taken root in the minds of those active in the project, including SEAK secretary Connor Hanrahan. “Long-term, we would love to continue to foster the community aspect of the garden by hosting seminars that introduce members of the campus community to gardening. SEAK’s education committee wants to use the garden as an educational tool for elementary school students and members of the Boys and Girls Club.”
“And we were actually contacted by a restaurant in Georgetown that wanted to know if we could help supply them with food,” Hanrahan said, “but it will be a while before we’re able to do that.”
Interest has even been expressed from others beyond this project. “Ben Nava and Rob Atkinson came to me with a proposal for a sweat lodge, which will be located on the ‘plateau’ we constructed from excavated soil from the Fine Arts, Admission, and CLL projects,” Mathis said.
“In addition, Hal Haskell’s Paidea cohort proposed installing peace poles and-or planting trees in the area,” Mathis said. “I will be sending an email to campus student organizations asking if they are interested in being part of the process to design and/or build the poles.”
“The overarching concept for the site of the community garden goes beyond gardens and native plants,” Mathis said. “It is really about dedicating space on campus where students can plan and develop projects—projects that support education, the environment, and the community.”
Physical Plant resources and equipment have been essential to the construction of the garden by providing tools, materials and logistical support. “Also deserving credit is Holliday as the faculty/staff instigator, Debbie Sanderfer from the Post Office who designed a web blog for the garden, and the SEAK members who were composting down there and talking about a garden for a long time, including Preston Hollis, Conner Hanrahan, Tanner Garth and Grayson Oheim along with several others,” Van Horn said.
As a side note, the staff of The Megaphone donated old back copies to line the seven original beds and hopes that other organizations will provide the garden with resources as well.
If you are interested in being involved in the garden, SEAK encourages all individuals to join on Saturday mornings at 10 a.m. “We would love for other members of the campus community to get involved with the garden,” said SEAK secretary Connor Hanrahan. “There is definitely no experience required, as we are learning as we go. Truly the more the merrier! It is an exciting place to see students, faculty and staff.”
The organization hopes to build more plots in the garden depending on community involvement. You can follow the progress on their blog at the SU Community Garden Blog.
For more information about composting, please visit Vegweb’s Composting Page.