The St. Thomas community garden harvested close to 400 pounds of produce this fall, which was donated to local food shelves.
The community garden, located behind the old Common Ground house, started this summer and gave biology students the unique opportunity to conduct research experiments while giving back to the community.
Adam Kay, the community garden director and a biology professor, said he thought the garden was “successful given the limited aims of the project.”
“The idea of the project is to create an environment where we can do student-driven research, and at the same time, the product of that research can make a contribution to the general community,” Kay said.
The plots have been cleared for the winter and work on the garden will begin in the spring, unless the department decides to begin growing some of the crops in the greenhouses, Kay said.
Students research crop diversity and productivity
Kay said the biology department paid two student workers this summer who “manipulated the diversity of crops in different plots so we can look at how diversity of crops affects productivity in the system, and the health of the soil and other factors related to the success of the agricultural process.”
Even if student researchers’ results are not successful, they will still have produce to donate to low-income families in the area, Kay said.
“They can feel good about it regardless how this turns out scientifically,” he said.
Students did not publish their research, but Kay said in the future the biology department would like to see student research published in scholarly scientific publications.
Possibility of involving neighbors
Bob Douglas, chairperson of the St. Thomas sustainability committee and coordinator of recycling and central receiving, said he would like to see more people than student workers, volunteers and professors helping with the garden.
“The ultimate goal is to involve the neighbors,” he said. “St. Kate’s has a community garden and a lot of the work is done by the neighbors. We would like to make that bridge with neighbors who are interested.”
The key to doing this, Kay said, is through student communication with neighbors and other students. Students “can go around and talk to people and get people excited about these issues,” Kay said.
Building awareness of local agricultural issues
Kay said the project is a good way to build “awareness about sustainable agricultural issues.”
He said the department has thought about using the garden as a way to educate all students. This could mean using produce from the garden and teaching students how to cook with fresh produce and learn about issues, Kay said.
“It’s a way of sort of educating students in terms of health issues, culinary issues,” Kay said. “And also, getting volunteers out there to work allows students to make a connection between soil and product and instead of just, ‘these are things you buy in a grocery store.’ So those are points of emphasis as well that we’ll continue to try to develop.”
Theresa Malloy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.