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Building Community Through Gardening

  • News Image
    Staff member Kim Murphy helps her daughter, Norah, pick beans in the community garden
  • News Image
    Staff member Paulette Butterworth works win her son, Drew (right), in the community garden.
  • News Image
    Molly Jensen (left) shows staff member Lou Ann Moore what is in her first bag of produce from the garden.
  • News Image
    Children helping with composting.

Southwestern employees trade work in the garden for fresh produce

Even though the students are gone for the summer, Southwestern’s community garden is still bustling with activity.

On a recent Thursday morning, more than 20 people – half of whom were children – could be found in the garden harvesting, weeding, composting and bagging produce for distribution.

It’s all part of a new program started by Molly Jensen, a religion professor who also serves as the faculty advisor for the community garden.

Jensen offered Southwestern faculty and staff members the opportunity to receive a free bag of fresh produce each week in exchange for 10 hours of work in the garden over the summer. The response to her offer was so overwhelming she had to put some people on a waiting list.

“Within 15 minutes of sending out the notice I had 40 people who were interested,” she said.

Jensen held orientation sessions to familiarize all the new volunteers with the garden and the different tasks they can help with – from weeding and watering to planting and picking. It’s all part of a new trend known as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).

Many of those who signed up said they did so because they wanted their children to learn where their food comes from.

“My daughter had no sense of where her food comes from,” said Kim Murphy, assistant dean for academic success and advising. Murphy was full of enthusiasm as her six-year-old daughter, Norah, found beans to pick in the garden on the first harvest day. She said they planned to make a side dish of the beans to go with a homemade pizza.

Others said they signed up to learn more about gardening from Jensen, who worked at the Sustainable Food Center in Austin before joining the Southwestern faculty.

“I’d like to have a garden at home, but I don’t know anything about gardening,” said Paulette Butterworth, associate director of Advancement Information Services in University Relations. “This has been an incredible learning experience.” Butterworth brought her seven-year-old son, Drew, to help in the garden on the first harvest day. “He had a blast,” she said. “He is already asking to go back.”

On May 31, all those who signed up to participate in the program received their first bag of produce. The bags contained beans, basil, mint, banana peppers and some greens. Jensen was beaming as she handed them out.

“This is a happy day,” she said.

Future harvests from the garden this summer are expected to include tomatoes, squash, corn, okra and lettuce. Jensen is encouraging participants to share recipes that use the produce they are receiving.