- Who founded the garden (Was it an initiative of the college, or of the student body? Was it founded by an existing club?) What was the incentive behind the project?
Maiya Zwerling ‘13 spearheaded the garden initiative in Spring 2010 as a project within the Greens, a student run organization that promotes sustainability and awareness of environmental issues on campus. Previous members of the Greens had tried to start gardens on campus, but unfortunately the projects fell through due to a lack of volunteers or poor location. Our garden was with the vision of a venue that would engage students in local food production on campus. We also wanted to create a peaceful, recreational space for community members. We picked the location next to Haffner due to the decent amount of student traffic in the area and proximity to the dinning hall. We also recognized that in order to ensure the longevity of this project we wanted to involve members from the entire Bryn Mawr community, including faculty and staff. Ed Harman, the head of grounds, has been an invaluable resource from the beginning. Steven Sensenich, the manager of Haffner, has also been very involved in the upkeep of the garden and has ben invested in using the produce in Haffner dining hall.
- What is produced in the garden?
We’ve planted a variety of different crops. The first year yielded a good amount of lettuce, chard, spinach, bok choy, mustard greens, watermelon, turnips, celery, tomatoes, blueberries, herbs such as basil and rosemary, red bliss and yukon gold potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, red & black beans, corn, and even pumpkin. Last year we planted beans, snap peas, pumpkins, blueberries, squash, tomatoes, kale, asparagus, carrot, potatoes, turnips, broccoli, basil and lemon balm. For the coming year we’ll be focusing on planting a larger quantity of a few staple crops in order to provide more produce for Haffner dining hall. We’ll be planting bok choi, different varieties of lettuce, cucumber, grape tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, leeks, potatoes, and cucumber.
- Can anyone just harvest food if they wish?
Initially, that was our wish. However, we quickly discovered that many people were harvesting produce that was not yet mature, or that was too old. Now we have garden harvest days, which we specifically organize at times when there are a lot of harvest-ready crops. Community members are invited to attend these, and take a small share home if they so desire.
- How is the garden maintained?
Maintaining the garden is a collaborative effort among students and staff. Haffner workers frequently check on the garden during the summer when students are off campus. The garden committee organizes 4 to 5 harvest and planting days each semester where students are encouraged to volunteer for a few hours in the garden. In addition, we encourage students to use the space, either for recreational purposes or to help maintain the produce, throughout the year.
- Do you think that the objectives of the project have been met so far? What has contributed to the success?
Since the establishment of the garden our goals have been to engage the Bryn Mawr community in local food production, increase students access to and awareness of local food, and increase visibility of the garden on campus. We feel that we have been pretty successful in meeting these goals so far. This success is significantly due to our collaboration with various groups on campus, and to a few wise decisions (such as locating next to a dining hall). Steven Sensenich, the manager of Haffner, has been very involved in the upkeep of the garden and invested in using the produce in Haffner dining hall. Haffner workers love the garden, and regularly go out to harvest and plant produce. They are especially helpful during the summer months when students are away from campus. Last year Maiya designed a mural for the garden, which the whole community participated in painting as a part of Earth Day celebrations. Not only did this increase the visibility of the garden on campus, but it’s a beautiful display of student art work. Ed Harman, the head of grounds, has been an invaluable resource and much of the garden’s success is due to his unwavering dedication. He does everything from ordering supplies, to gathering workers for planting and pruning, and providing advice for garden layout and planting. Clubs such as the greens, batten house, the sustainable food committee, among others, have provided us a core of volunteers and resources that we rely on.
- How does the college benefit from this project? How do the members of the steering committee personally benefit from it?
The garden is an excellent example of a project initiated and executed by students for the benefit of the college as a whole. We converted a barren, useless space into a beautiful garden that is producing fresh produce for the community. The student garden is also another method by which students and staff can collaborate to create changes on campus. It provides students with an opportunity to learn about gardening through active participation. For the the members of the garden committee it’s a great learning experience and an excellent opportunity to participate in a project that directly benefits the community as a whole. Committee members are learning what it takes to sustain a garden, including types of crops to plant, different planting techniques, and community organizing skills.
- What, if any, are challenges involved with the project?
The most pressing challenges have been establishing a core of committed volunteers and ensuring the longevity of the project. As with any student run organization, the future of the project can be jeopardized by the relatively short time that students are on campus. When the students who initiate a project graduate that project often dies out. We’ve tried to avert this problem by involving staff members, such as Ed and Steven, in the planning process from the beginning. However, we would love to have more staff members involved and we need to add underclassmen to the garden steering committee as well. We’re also taking steps to establish a group of committed volunteers who participate in harvests and planting regularly, especially during the summer.
Another challenge has been finding useful outlets for the produce. Our initial intention was that students would come pick the produce, but this hope was a bit shortsighted since most students are on the meal plan and don’t cook their own food. As a result, we’ve had to shift what we plant from produce that students might enjoy (watermelon, blueberries, snap peas) to produce that the dinning hall will use (lettuce, basil, onions). The relatively small space of the garden (31 x 30 ft) has also constrained the quantity and variety of produce we can plant. Lastly, with any sustainable initiative there is always doubt to be overcome. Many people right away assume that because the garden is so small it won’t make a lasting impact on the community. We may not be able to have a farm to meet all of the dining hall needs, but that doesn’t mean that we can never get close to achieving something similar.
- So you won the PHS Greening award. What was the basis of selection for the award? /What was the basis for evaluation?
The PHS Greening award recognizes efforts to beautify public spaces in Pennsylvania that benefit the community. Judges are volunteers from the community who visit the sites in late July and August. The sites are evaluated based on plant variety, design, use of space, and horticultural practices. The judges took pictures to document the space and asked the founders a series of questions about the goals of the project.
- How does the committee plan to sustain this project in the future? Are there any plans to enhance the project?
Our goals for next semester include re-designing the garden, fostering better connections with on and off campus contacts, and trying to expand the garden and push for its visibility on campus. These efforts are part of our larger goal to switch to a production-oriented garden. As a production garden, our garden will require extensive planning and volunteering to maintain the crop yields as the primary goal for success. For this reason we are working on improving our organization and record keeping, securing a paid supervisor position and core of volunteers (we are reaching out to postbacs, grad students, staff and faculty now), and getting feedback from the community. We’ve already been doing some outreach with Batten house and the general students body, and are getting postbacs involved in its summer maintainance. Production gardens also base the inventory on what the kitchen needs and when they need it not the other way around. To make this switch, we have identified year-round produce needed by Haffner, and are working with them to make sure we can grow and harvest these produce on time. Once we have assessed our growing ability, we will look to other spots for expansion.
We also plan to pursue education initiatives and to increase it’s use as a recreation space on campus. For the former, we will invite local school children to the garden to foster environmental stewardship among the youth. This way the garden will serve as a platform to promote science education in a natural setting. For the latter, there’s talk of doing a food week, workshops, engaging other student groups, and collaborating with garden initiatives within the tri-co (with Haverford student garden and Swat’s Good Food group). We are also hoping to create plots for donating produce to the community, and involve outside community contacts in its maintenance. Lastly, we are trying to get faculty involved by looking into establishing connections with the sustainability 360 class.
- How can the Bryn Mawr community get involved in furthering/ improving the project?
We encourage all community members to become involved in the garden by volunteering and by using the space for recreational activities! Community members can visit our blog at http://greensgardening.blogs.brynmawr.edu/ for information on upcoming events and to leave comments or suggestions. We also have a facebook group. If students are interested in volunteering or have ideas for the coming semester they can contact the steering committee at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to develop a core of committed volunteers who are invested in the success of the garden.