Campus community garden finishes its first successful harvest

Lex Treinen/Sun Star Reporter
September 18, 2012

After their first successful harvest, members of the UAF Campus Community Garden are looking forward to new opportunities next season. After being conceived last spring, gardening enthusiasts constructed a working, 42-plot community operated garden.

Chas Jones, a PhD student at the International Arctic Research Institute came up with the idea and was involved with almost every stage of construction. “I was talking to a professor about it, and he liked the idea,” Jones said. The professor was Bill Schnabel, who then approached Michelle Hebert, the Director of the Sustainability Department. According to Hebert, she offered the Sustainability Department’s help to coordinate meetings if they could find five interested people. Jones received 40 interested responses to an email. With Hebert’s support and after holding weekly organizational meetings for six weeks, the team had determined a location, secured some funding promises and set the ground rules for their vision of the garden.

The UAF Faculty and Staff Community garden had its first successful summer in operation this year. The garden grew a variety of vegetables, including salad greens and yellow squash, as pictured. Photo provided by Chas Jones.

The garden received a $5,000 grant from UAF People’s Endowment as well as a $6,000 grant from the Student Sustainability Fund. The grants left a slight deficit in the budget, which the organizers were able to patch with a $50 user fee for anyone who rents out a box for a year of use. Considering the money that went into it, the deal is well worth it for many; “It’s a great opportunity,” said David Hooper, an engineering student who rented a box along with his girlfriend, “$50 paid for everything we needed.” Hooper said another draw was the Master Gardeners present to offer their advice. Their $50 fee includes tools, boxes, topsoil and water, as well as picnic benches and a compost pile. The sunny, south-facing location gave gardeners not just the usual lettuce and broccoli, but also tomatoes and romanesco cauliflower. Some people just planted flowers.

Part of the reason Sustainability has been so supportive is because of gardeners decision to stay away from non-organic products.

The UAF community largely supported the idea. According to Jones, the location got approval from UAF’s Master Planning Committee, an advisory committee to the Chancellor that helps coordinate future construction at UAF.  Though they did not guarantee use of the current location for any amount of time, the fact that the garden is not only providing a service but also beautifying campus makes Jones optimistic that the garden can continue in its current location. Facilities Services also chipped in by offering to fill up the water tanks free of charge.

For many, the garden offered an opportunity to grow their own produce that they otherwise would not have had. Leslie McCartney, a curator of Oral Histories for the Rasmuson Library, was one such gardener. She said she was unable to obtain a plot in the other community garden in Fairbanks in downtown Fairbanks because demand was too high. When she read an announcement in the Cornerstone about the possibility of an on-campus garden, she jumped on the idea. After harvesting peas, potatoes and plentiful lettuce McCartney is excited to continue gardening next year and to see the garden grow in her role as a member of the garden advisory committee, which is composed of student, staff and faculty representatives. The committee discusses rules, events and future development.

Nearly everyone involved has been pleasantly surprised by how smooth the first year went. According to Jones, there have been no major problems, and some of the problems they were hoping to avoid have not materialized. Moose and vandals have not disturbed the plots, which is closed with a padlock. “There have been no problems whatsoever,” McCartney said, “it was really successful.”

Though it is still unclear how many people will sign up for a plot, organizers are optimistic that they can fill the spots and then some. According to McCartney, the current fence has room for seven more boxes, and there is plenty of room to extend the fence. Jones said that there are even plans to put in fruit trees. The group is also trying to raise interest in the garden by offering a listserv to those interested in receiving updates.

Jones said that one of his major goals was to connect faculty and students, something that he personally has been able to do. The garden has also inspired younger gardeners like Holland, who said this was his first experience growing vegetables. Though he might not be around next summer to rent a plot, the garden has left him with something. “It’s definitely gonna make me want to garden in the future,” Holland said.

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