• Students work in Southwestern's new community organic garden.
    Students work in Southwestern's new community organic garden.
  • Students plant a tree in the new community garden in honor of Wangari Maathai.
    Students plant a tree in the new community garden in honor of Wangari Maathai.

Students, faculty and staff members from Southwestern have joined together with local residents to start a community organic garden in which plants are grown without chemicals.

The garden is located behind the Studio Arts Building on the north end of campus. It has 18 plots, some of which are designated for personal use and others that will generate produce for the community. Anyone interested in gardening is welcome to help out on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“There are many faculty, staff and students who have wanted something like this for quite some time,” said Gavin Van Horn, a visiting faculty member in Environmental Studies who has helped coordinate efforts to get the garden started.

Stan Bessent, the lead groundskeeper in Physical Plant, and Bob Mathis, associate vice president for Facilities and Campus Services, were among many campus staff who also helped put the idea into action. 

The first raised-bed plots were built with material recycled from other projects on campus. These plots are open to students, faculty and staff for personal use. Now, the gardeners are working on larger plots that will produce food for the community. They also are growing vegetable seedlings in the campus greenhouse, which is located near the garden.  

Anna Prather, one of Van Horn’s students, was one of the first students to work at the gardens.

“I think it’s really great to get people outside,” Prather said. “It’s also great from an environmental perspective because if you really want to change the environment you have to work at it yourself. A person can have all the policy contact they want, but if they are not directly in contact with the earth it doesn’t matter. 

Community member Helen Cordes is sharing the knowledge she gained from working on her family’s farm.

“I’m particularly drawn to food gardens,” Cordes said. “I think it’s really important now that people know how to grow their own food. I think there’s a future in gardening and the idea of putting gardens close to the community is important.”

Erik Loomis, a visiting professor in the History Department, is one of several faculty members who have plots in the garden. “Most people don’t know where their food comes from and the way it is produced with chemicals, which is why it’s important to provide an opportunity to show students and faculty a garden that produces good food,” Loomis said.

The garden had its official opening Feb 21. As part of the opening festivities, students planted a pecan tree in honor of Wangari Maathai, who recently visited Southwestern to give the 2009 Shilling Lecture. Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her work with the Green Belt Movement in Kenya, which has helped women’s groups plant 30 million trees to prevent soil erosion, provide firewood and produce food.

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