Veggie sales: Student-run garden provides weekly “Nanook Grown” harvest

Kelsey Gobroski / Sun Star Reporter
September 7, 2011

Alexander Bergman collects vegetables at the Nanook Student Farm outside the Facilities Services greenhouse. Kelsey Gobroski/Sun Star

Alexander Bergman collects vegetables at the Nanook Student Farm outside the Facilities Services greenhouse. Kelsey Gobroski/Sun Star

Freshman Alexander Bergman plucked munched-on carrots from the earth. Something got into the vegetables again. Once, Bergman followed tiny tunnels running along the rows to a nest made from gardening fabric. Tracking down garden invaders is just part of the job at the Nanook Student Farm.

The garden sits adjacent to the Facilities Services greenhouse, in the shadow of the coal-fired power plant. On Thursday mornings, Bergman and Zoe Marshall pick “Nanook Grown” vegetables from the garden and take them to the Wood Center to sell from noon to 2 p.m.

Last year, Facilities Services brought campus-grown vegetables to students through Dining Services as part of a broader effort to make UAF more self-sufficient. The Office of Sustainability (OS) took over part of that responsibility this year by creating the garden known as the Nanook Student Farm. After OS provides the Lola Tilly Commons with vegetables, a produce stand outside the Wood Center whittles down leftover inventory. Whatever is left goes to the food bank. The entire operation is student-run.

“I try to be just the gatekeeper here.” OS director Michele Hébert said, “They’re just doing all of it.”

The concept of a student garden has floated around since UAF established a sustainability fee. Although Facilities Services first manned the operations, OS employees became interested in the project.

“I proposed to [Facilities Services] this year that the students take it over, and they said that would be fabulous because they had enough to do,” Hébert said.

Bergman has worked at the garden since the day he was hired, he said. He was jogging when Hébert found him and asked if she could interview him — he was down in the garden weeding by the end of the day, he said.

Students began harvesting for about two hours every Thursday morning in July. Bergman would sometimes bike to the Wood Center with the day’s vegetables, he said.

Trees were beginning to change color the first day of classes, Sept. 1, when Bergman and Marshall quickly sold out of the mint and sage they’d just picked. Although first frost is on the horizon, they will try to extend the season by covering the rows, according to Hébert. They might be able to harvest into November, she said.

The office and Facility Services discussed continuing the program next year. They might extend the potato patch to keep up with demand, Hébert said.

Facilities Services owns the garden and provides soil. The students plant, care for, and harvest the vegetables. Through the Nanook Student Farm, student workers learn how to raise food, build a business model, weigh the organic fertilizer options, network with others in the community – and work around rodent problems.

“I think this is a unique program that trains [students] – gives them confidence and interaction with something ‘real life,’” Hébert said.

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