One of Centre’s hidden gems is its community garden, located behind the Emeritus House on Maple Avenue. The garden has a rich history of activity and presence by students, faculty, staff, and community members.
The garden began in January 2010 as a student effort to promote sustainable practices by producing various crops for campus use. Several students in Brett Werner’s Food and Campus Sustainability CentreTerm course initiated the program.
In spring 2010, the project began with the building of eight raised beds. The students planted a variety of seeds, including cucumber, lettuce, pepper, and carrots. Cilantro, basil, and parsley were later added, and summer crops included tomatoes, pepper, and lettuce.
The garden progressed into the fall term, each week producing cilantro, dill, basil, parsley, two dozen tomatoes, and a grocery bag of lettuce to be used in the Cowan dining hall. By the end of the fall semester, the students’ produce had made a substantial presence in the dining hall’s food supply.
The biggest challenge facing the garden was the unavoidable misalignment of academic year and growing season. Centre faculty and staff realized how little attention the garden was receiving during the summer, so they took an interest in its care and upkeep. This began the relationship that the garden has with the community today, as students, faculty, and staff work together to grow food for themselves and their neighbors, rather than for campus consumption.
Over the years, these gardeners have worked with the Centre Environmental Association (CEA) to keep the community garden strong. This summer, a core group of 6-8 people have tended to the garden, each claiming their own plot to produce what they wish.
Tim Culhan, Centre staff member and a leader in the garden this summer, acknowledges the many benefits of a community garden, like building a sense of community and producing healthy and chemical free food. Centre has long been committed to sustainability and practices that reduce our carbon footprint, and Culhan states that the “how, where, and what” of food supply are a big part of sustainability.
“I’m personally interested in eating locally and organically,” says Culhan, “I think more and more people are beginning to live this way too.”
For the past couple of years, time and resource restraints have limited the garden’s production during the fall and spring seasons, causing the garden to peak during the summer months. However, Culhan is excited and expectant for expanding that, as he’s already seen student interest in continuing the garden in the fall. The Centre Environmental Association has shown support for the garden, providing money from their budget to purchase seeds and new gardening equipment. Centre’s Facilities Management has also been integral in the success of the garden, tilling and preparing the land at the beginning of growing seasons.
Culhan emphasizes the goals of the garden as being more than just food production. While the garden is only loosely organized now, the members want to see this project as a community effort. They seek to emphasize the social value of the garden, not just the food value. In doing so, they will learn more about successful growing habits, including determining the right pH of the soil and how to rotate crop plots to utilize the soil in the best way. Overall, their goal is to create a space where families and students can gather in community, learning about and living in the environment around them.
In the future, Culhan envisions an expansion of the garden as more interest in the project grows. With more space, he imagines growing corn and utilizing the fence rows for a flower garden. With enough room and resources he would even like to plant milkweed to attract monarch butterflies, which would bring more beauty and life to the space. At the moment, most of the food produced is used by the gardeners and their families, friends, and neighbors. In the future and with enough support, Culhan sees a possibility of producing enough food to donate to local initiatives like the Grace Café and food pantries.
Overall, Culhan and the members of Centre’s community garden seek to show the importance of building community through sustainable practices and organic gardening. The student initiative from over 6 years ago has continued to impact community members, students, faculty, and staff. Similarly, with forward thinking minds and sustainable intentions, we can all cause positive change in our lives and the lives of others.