Garden raises awareness about sustainability

The CommUnity garden is located between Hecht Residential College and the Architecture School. Monica Herndon // Assistant Photo Editor
The CommUnity garden is located between Hecht Residential College and the Architecture School. Monica Herndon // Assistant Photo Editor

Take a stroll between the Hecht towers and architecture building 48, and you will come across a garden — appropriately painted green and orange with two raised L-shaped beds that form a U.

This CommUnity Garden is the brainchild of a group of architecture and ecosystem science and policy students who dreamed of implementing sustainable, organic gardening at UM back in 2009.

“I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be at UM, and I wanted to make sure I left the place better than I found it,” said Michael Schoor, a UM alumnus who was one of the driving forces behind the garden.

The students initially envisioned rooftop gardens. When it didn’t pan out, they settled for a small plot allotted by the School of Architecture – at ground level – and commenced a study on the behavior of sunlight and shadows in the area.

On Hurricanes Help the Hometown Day in October 2009, the students buckled down and installed the garden, using mostly donated materials.

“It was one of the most amazing days,” said Naomi Ross, a UM alumnus who now works in the Office of Civic and Community Engagement.

The garden now hosts a variety of plants and vegetables, from mint and basil to flourishing carrots and freshly forming tomatoes. Winter break, however, has left the garden largely unattended.

“This shouldn’t be here,” Ross said as she pulled out the shoots of a tree. “It’s not doing so well. We want to see it last and become what we envisioned it to be. We don’t want to see it go by the wayside.”

According to Athena Jones, a freshman majoring in environmental engineering and ecosystem science and policy, there are many reasons to keep the garden going and growing.

For one, Jones believes participants gain awareness of the work that transpires before vegetables magically materialize on grocery store shelves.

“It gets people more connected with their food,” she said.

Leaders of the garden share a sentiment that it should create a sense of community and serve as a place to “get a little dirty and have a ton of fun,” Ross said.

Jones said that short-term goals include revamping and replanting by February, as well as executing more organized and structured programming.

For now, their sights are set on perfecting what they already have in time for a campus visit by renowned urban farmer and UM alumnus Will Allen in March. He will be delivering a lecture on “Growing the Good Food Revolution,” and is admired by many of those involved with the garden.

Students, faculty and families living on campus have all helped with the garden, but it is primarily cared for by a small group of dedicated students who have several ideas when it comes to their vision for the garden.

The garden remains in the humble beginning stages of what these students hope for, with tomatoes in need of trellises and wood that could use a fresh coat of paint. But Jones dreams of a “sanctuary that makes you forget you are in the city,” where students can walk up and down a row of beds and pick fruits and vegetables.

Ross would like to see school groups and classes connecting to the garden. Her other ideas include yoga by the garden, potlucks to “eat what you worked on,” rentable plots, regular lectures by local gardening experts and vibrant signs to mark its location.

“I know that something is going to come out of this, and I can’t wait to see it happen,” Ross said.