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Student Garden

Posted: 07/20/2009

Student garden takes root, begins to yield harvest

Two years ago, after gaining community garden experience in South America and the U.S., Laura Fralich ’11 entered Skidmore College with an idea. The environmental studies major wondered if Skidmore would be willing to support a campus-based student garden, which could provide opportunities for willing students who would harvest fresh produce for the College’s dining hall.

As often happens, it takes time to bring ideas for big projects to fruition. Fralich remained committed and talked with a number of people on campus to generate support for her plan. One of those people was Erica Fuller, Skidmore’s campus sustainability coordinator, who signed on as advisor to the project and provided feedback and counsel to Fralich. The garden literally took root this spring with a goal of offering an experiential learning opportunity surrounding the ecology of food. For Fralich, another goal is to supply some local, organically grown food to the dining hall.

Development and preparation of the garden, as well as planting, took place in April. As of mid-July, the students had harvested and delivered to the dining hall radishes, beets, lettuce, peas, and spinach. The garden, a 40 foot by 60 foot plot of land next to the Colton House on North Broadway, also grows zucchini, carrots, squash, broccoli, tomatoes, onions, leeks, beans, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, and various herbs.

Skidmore’s student gardeners employ organic practices: using compost, weeding by hand, and no pesticides. Fuller, a full-time Skidmore staff member, is here year-round, but in order for the garden project to become a reality, it meant that student gardeners Fralich, Peter Leipzig Scott ’09, an environmental studies major, and Sarah Green ’11, an environmental studies minor, are also here for the summer. They combine their gardening chores with work as stewards in the College’s North Woods.

On July 14, the group worked together to harvest beets and peas, collecting 25 pounds of beets and a half pound of peas. The mid-summer progress report shows eight pounds of radishes, 3.5 pounds of spinach, 31 pounds of beets, four pounds of lettuce, and a half pound each of peas and herbs collected to date.

Fralich said she came up with the garden idea in 2007 following a stint with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, where she farmed in South America for four months. Pending approval by Skidmore, she received a $1,000 grant from Sparkseed, a non-profit organization that gives grants to college students to start social entrepreneurship projects in their schools. After Skidmore approved Fralich’s plan, she was also given a $2,500 stipend through the College’s Responsible Citizenship Task Force. Fralich’s stipend went toward her living expenses this summer; the remaining funds purchased gardening tools, storage containers, fencing, compost, seeds, and transplants.

“It’s been a lot of work, but also a big accomplishment after a year and a half of waiting for approval. We have been lucky because we have such great encouragement from the administration,” Fralich said. The trio of student gardeners visits the site from 9 a.m. to noon every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, tending to the plants and planting new ones. Laura also gardens in her hometown in Maine and in nearby towns, while Peter and Sarah see gardening as a new learning experience.

All agree that the garden has been quite successful, despite some minor setbacks. The weather has not been ideal, with too much rain (more than five inches in June alone), which has put the garden a couple weeks behind. However, the team is pleased that the raised beds effectively drain excess water from the plants. Another variable that cannot be controlled are occasional visits by local wildlife, who seem to enjoy the broccoli and lettuce.

Besides contributing fresh produce to Skidmore’s Dining Services, Fuller thinks the garden has other advantages. “The Skidmore Student garden has provided informal community-building opportunities, from planned work days to develop the garden beds to professors stopping by with their gardening gloves for some afternoon weeding. Food serves as the focus and the garden offers the space and activity for meaningful, outdoor community interaction.” One reason for the garden’s appeal to the campus community may be the fact that everyone has a personal relationship with food. As Fuller notes, “everyone eats.”

Fuller herself has garden experience from her years in graduate school, where she developed educational curricula for a Community Supported Agriculture farm in New Hampshire. “Our hope is that after this trial year, the garden will become an enduring project that is woven into the fabric of the College,” she said. (Story by Kimberly Shorb, intern in the Office of Communications. All photos by Eric Jenks ’08.)