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Posted by: Date: April 25, 2008 In: , , ,

Growing season begins at community garden

On Sunday, April 20, the grand opening of the PLU Community Garden’s permanent site officially kicked off Earth Week. Located on 121st Street South behind Ingram Hall, the 10,000-square-foot site is much larger than the garden’s previous a 150-square-foot plot on lower campus. Sunday’s festivities included a ceremonial ribbon cutting by President Loren Anderson, a blessing of the garden by campus pastors Dennis Sepper and Nancy Connor, and a volunteer work party to get the plot’s first official growing season started.

The Garden Club has been working throughout the year to prepare the new site for planting. Many months and man-hours later, the site has 22 garden beds and the soil is ready for planting.

This year marks the third growing season for the community garden. First established in 1997 by student Brian Norman, the community garden didn’t live past his graduation a year later. In April 2006, Becky Mares ’07 and Kate Fontana decided to reestablish the garden.

Food sustainability was a hot topic that summer, with Fontana receiving a fellowship to recreate the garden and Rachel Esbjornson ’07 looking at how to increase student awareness about the issue. Mares brought to the table her volunteer experience working at Mother Earth Farm and the expertise of farm manager Carrie Little, who turned out to be an invaluable resource, providing seeds and advice.

“She is a major asset,” Esbjornson said. “She looks at it (planting) from a farmer’s perspective.”

Formed in 2000 by the Emergency Food Network, Mother Earth Farm is an eight-acre organic farm that produces more than 150,000 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables each growing season. All the produce is distributed directly to local food banks and hot meal programs.

Through service learning projects and the student environmental club GREAN, PLU students have volunteered at the farm. Working there is as much an educational experience as it is manual labor, Mares said. Little teaches volunteers about organic gardening, producing food in a sustainable way and the social justice issues related to food.

“It’s a place that changes people,” said Esbjornson, who is currently working as the farm assistant.

Modeling the PLU garden after Mother Earth Farm seemed like a natural fit, Mares said. The PLU garden is also organic, which means that synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are not used, and all the food is donated to Trinity Lutheran Church to distribute to needy Parkland families.

“Every day I realize the importance of food. It infiltrates everyone’s life,” Mares said.

The university encourages students to study away and live lives of service, but it falls short of engaging students with the Parkland community, Mares said. The garden aims to open the Lutedome and better connect students with their neighbors across the street.

“Knowing about the farm and the garden create a larger perspective,” Mares said. “It’s an education in how to grow food, what ‘local’ really means, and what a plant looks like and how to care to for it.”

Eventually, Mares would like to see the garden become a place where students meet and a venue for events, such as master gardening workshops, a harvest festival and musical performances. Plans are in the works to build a greenhouse, and in the future, a tool shed and gazebo.

Volunteers are invited to work in the garden every Sunday from noon to 3 p.m., and donations of tools, materials or even compostable food scraps are appreciated. For more information, contact the Garden Club at garden@plu.edu.

University Communications staff writer Megan Haley compiled this report. Comments, questions, ideas? Please contact her at ext. 8691 or at haleymk@plu.edu. Photo by University Photographer Jordan Hartman.