GreenHouse Students Create Raised Beds For On-Campus Garden
Release Date: 11-11-2009
Early one Saturday morning in November, while most of their classmates were placidly sawing logs in bed, six GreenHouse students were awake, alert, and doing woodwork of a different sort.
Wielding cordless drills, hunched over four long tables, the students were busy converting a stack of weathered 1x6 pine boards into long rectangular boxes helpfully pictured in rough construction drawings on a white board.
The work was taking place in room 9 of GreenHouse, UVM's environmentally themed residential learning community, located in the University Heights South building. The students were putting the finishing touches on a project two years in the making — the permitting, siting and construction of an on-campus garden in the green space between U Heights and the Christ Church on Redstone Drive — by building raised beds that would hold the soil and compost for the garden.
"The soil up there is all builder's fill, so it's really rocky," says Nick Lorenz, a sophomore ecological agriculture major from Corvallis, Ore., who is serving as project manager for the both raised beds project and the garden that will follow. The raised beds, Lorenz says, will enable students to "bring new soil to an area that otherwise wouldn't provide a good growing environment."
Although creating an on-campus garden at a university as committed to the environment and locally grown food as UVM is would seem like a relatively simple undertaking, it has been anything but.
A 2009 UVM graduate and former GreenHouse resident named James Stoops took on the garden as his capstone project in the Rubenstein School in 2007. Because it will have a visual impact in an area set aside as open space, the garden, which will hold 10 raised beds and is roughly 14 x 36 feet, had to go through the campus planning process.
"James took on the task of working through site permitting," says Steve Libby, GreenHouse assistant director. "He did the vast bulk of the legwork," which was considerable, and created a detailed plan for the garden, to the level of specifying what vehicles would deliver the compost to the raised beds.
Although Stoops made great progress, there is still plenty to do for Lorenz, who's made the garden his central project for the one-credit "Ecological Citizenship" course he's taking this year, which all second-year GreenHouse students are required to complete.
In addition to designing the dimensions of the raised bed to make sure they're both productive and easy to tend, and overseeing construction, Lorenz is also tackling such management issues as how the garden will be cultivated after students have left for the summer and how vegetables will be distributed to GreenHouse residents — via rationing or a first-come, first-served system or through some other method.
The raised beds not only promote the sustainable use of locally grown food, they are themselves the product of the university's commitment to environmental principles. The boards used to build the beds were salvaged from the deconstructed buildings that occupied the site where the University Heights complex now stands.
If all goes well, the beds will be installed and filled with soil within the next two weeks and planted in the spring.
One of the Saturday assemblers, freshman Becky Frye, spoke of the enthusiasm the project is generating in the GreenHouse, where students have always gravitated to issues related to food and the food system and are excited about being able to finally close the loop and make use of the compost they've been creating for several years.
"Food is essential to everything," she says. "It's one thing to go to a grocery store and pick out a tomato; it's another thing to go to your garden and plant a tomato and watch it grow and pick it off the vine. It's completely different and so much better."