By Cassandra Sottile
Elm Staff Writer
In the spring of 2012, Kelsey Hallowell returned from the first cohort of the Chesapeake Semester with a plan to grow food sustainably on campus. In partnership with the Student Environmental Alliance (SEA) and Buildings & Grounds, a space was designated for the garden, and dedicated in the fall of that year, where Professor William Schindler gave a keynote speech about the ecological significance of food production. Habitat for Humanity built a shed and first garden boxes, and the first fruit trees were planted later that year.
Since then, the campus garden has grown, with more than a dozen fruit trees, an apiary for beekeeping, an earthen oven, living roof, and pond. It is a creative and collaborative space for groups such as the SEA, Habitat for Humanity, the Anthropology Club, and the Department of Environmental Science and Studies.
The Campus Garden follows permaculture design principles to mimic ecological patterns for regenerative food production. Plants are arranged similarly to layers in a forest. Every perennial plant must have two or more functions — thay can be edible, for erosion control, living mulch, medicinal, native, nitrogen fixing, pest deterring, or wind breaking. Annual crops such as corn, kale, peppers, and herbs only need be edible.
“Most of the plants we put in the garden are native species, and are typically useful in some way, whether that is as nitrogen fixers or good for pollinators,” Vice President of the Garden Club sophomore Julia Portmann said.
Each year, the campus garden club comes up with plans for the garden. This school year, some of their plans included Bay-Wise certification, compost production, bee campus USA certification, and construction of planter benches.
The club also hosts workdays in the garden every Friday from 3-5 p.m. In addition to the workdays and club projects during Casey Time, the garden will introduce fifteen new perennials as well as seed several food crops.
“Next fall, we plan to get an early start with a ‘permablitz’ during pre-orientation, which will establish more fruit trees, berry bushes, and fruiting vines,” Master Gardener Shane Brill said. “Our hope is to expand the garden at a pace that can be sustained, harmonizing biodiversity and food production as a model for the community.”
Brill is the coordinator for Federal Work Study students who work in the garden.
Melia Greene, a Federal Work Study student, said, “I enjoy working in the garden. We bought a bunch of seed, basically an expansion of our edible forest so that every inch is being used. We also just installed a worm composting station, so I’m very excited to see that flourish.”
Between ten and 15 types of vegitation have been planted this year, and the club is gearing up for more projects as the weather is getting warmer.
“Most of the garden’s woody perennials are planted after the fall equinox, so the plants invest their energy into developing roots for the winter. Planting resumes in the spring, with the club focusing on herbs and food crops once the last frosts have passed in mid-April,” Treasurer Elizabeth Massey, freshman, said.
The perennial plant layers of the garden include canopy trees that contain almonds, apples, cherries; understory, which has paw paw and witch hazel; shrubs such as blueberry, hazelnut, rosemary, gooseberry; vines plants like wild beans; herbaceous or asparagus, giant sunflower, and sweet fern; groundcovers including dandelion, strawberry, and wild onion; underground, such as garlic and groundnuts; and aquatic, including cattail and blue flag iris.
The goal of the garden is to improve ecological vitality while producing food for people and to cultivate a relationship with the natural world.
“Anyone can help with the garden, just be prepared to get dirty,” Greene said.
Students can show up to the scheduled Friday workdays or reach out to President Emily Castle at email@example.com.
By Cassandra Sottile