It’s 9:30 on a blazing summer morning, and a continuous stream of faculty, students and staff members are making their way to Southwestern’s community garden. They are hurrying for the chance to select from a colorful harvest of produce that has been spread out on a picnic table. Purple eggplant, yellow cherry tomatoes, green peppers and okra are just some of the offerings.
Overseeing the operation is Kira McEntire, a sophomore environmental studies major who has dedicated her summer to maintaining the garden and harvesting the variety of vegetables grown there. “We really wanted people to come to the garden, to see where their food comes from, and to learn about eating organic, locally grown produce,” McEntire said.
The summer project was made possible by a grant that was awarded as part of Southwestern’s $50,000 “Vision Grant” from the 3M Foundation. Over the past three years, the grant has funded a variety of projects relating to the San Gabriel River in Georgetown. Vanessa Toro, a junior majoring in biology and environmental science, wrote a proposal to fund the maintenance of the garden through the heat of the summer and ensure that the produce was harvested for the benefit of the campus community.
“We wanted to get people more involved in the community garden and to build community through the garden,” Toro said.
Natalie Vreeland, a horticulturist with the Williamson County and Cities Health District, was the project sponsor. Vreeland supervises Georgetown’s Heritage Community Garden, which was established through a partnership between the Health District and the City of Georgetown Parks and Recreation Department. The 18-acre garden about a mile from campus boasts an orchard, themed gardens and a greenhouse. Under Vreeland’s care, the garden has garnered national attention as a model for teaching healthy and environmentally sound practices that directly impact local communities.
“Southwestern has done a great job with this project,” Vreeland says. “Kira is energetic, dynamic and creative − she’s a real joy to work with.”
Rounding out the educational impact of the garden project is the inclusion of the San Gabriel River trail system and the Georgetown farmer’s market. Although the market is held alongside the trail, very few of the market’s patrons have been using it.
McEntire spent part of the summer trying to increase participation in the farmer’s market and increasing awareness of the San Gabriel River Trail as a sustainable method of transportation to the market. She also has conducted plant surveys along the trail, and is labeling the native plants and educating people about invasive species like the Chinaberry trees used for local landscaping.
Toro said she hopes to find additional funding to continue the project. “The garden is a wonderful educative space, and the project can help connect Georgetown with the Southwestern community,” she said.
–Shannon Hicks ‘12