Organic gardening craze yields crops and community

Aside from bringing in a heavy stream of organic fare, the success of the on-campus gardens has led to expansion in terms of crops and presence. The three gardens on campus—the senior lot garden and greenhouse, the Discovery garden, and another for the fifth-grade Urban EdVenture classes—have all increased in scale and production since their recent inception.

“Each one has a different purpose,” said Discovery leader Emily Horne. “The senior lot is really for classes and the garden club, the Discovery one is for the Discovery program to have a community garden, and the lower school one is for the service learning projects that they do.”

This is the first year the lower garden has been utilized, but it seems to be finding great success, particularly with regard to the school’s new hands-on focus. The other two, especially the eight-year-old senior lot garden, have existed longer. “A biology teacher was using it for his class the other day,” said Horne. “They were having a lot of extra time spent in that space.” Educational uses like these are the main purpose of the gardens. The elementary school’s garden is used for Urban EdVenture, a year-long service program for fifth graders.

“The Discovery garden was mostly so we could compost the food coming back from our trips,” said Horne. “However, for all of them together, the idea is to create a sort of community through these gardens.”

The gardens have all evolved since their original goals in order to better serve the students’ and programs’ needs, while still maintaining the sense of a close-knit group.

“The way we go about achieving [this sense of community] is dynamic,” said Jarrell. “We change it around so it suits the needs of the student body.”

The unifying factor that the leaders attempt to foster is the sense of helping a greater purpose. Eventually, they hope to be able to donate to local food pantries or similar causes.

“We’re growing things out there 365 days a year,” said Jarrell. “It’s kind of surprising for a lot of people – [they] think just because we’re having a cold snap now that it’s sort of a desolate wasteland out there. It’s not. We grow a lot of plants that are wintertime hardy.”

In such a warm climate as Georgia’s, crops can be grown during all seasons. Tomatoes and peppers are grown in the summer, while broccoli, winter greens, and garlic can be grown in the winter. The success of the gardens has also allowed for more interesting and diverse crops.

“It’s not just plain carrots anymore,” said Horne. “We now we have things like cosmic purple carrots.”

“Things that are a little bit out there on the edges are fun for people to grow,” said Jarrell. “We’ve got this new broccoli in this really cool spiraling shape – almost like snail shells.”

He’s referencing Romanesco broccoli, a new addition to the discovery garden location. However, the more traditional crops are still successful and growing in production quantities.

“Last month we had about 15 pounds of shiitake mushrooms,” said Jarrell, “which was our largest harvest yet. We gave them to the cafeteria to use. But it’s definitely neat to try some different things that can be really, really fun.”

Today, there are many way for students to get involved with the gardens.

“[Anyone] can just come out if they’d like,” said Jarrell. “Every Wednesday we’ll have time out in the garden after school.”

On the last Wednesday of every month, there is a community garden day with a grill out and music during which most of the more labor intensive heavy lifting is done.Any member of the Westminster community, including students from all divisions, parents, faculty, administrators and staff, is invited to attend.

“It becomes much more of a social experience,” said Horne. “Less so than the individual light we often see gardening.” Students can also contact the head gardeners, seniors Calin Mason and Simone Brown, who lead as the student faces in the garden every week. Other students have eagerly involved themselves in the garden as well.

“Starting in the seventh grade, we all did a garden project [in science] and I really enjoyed it,” said sophomore Katie McGahan. “I like gardening, it’s fun and my family always gets food from the [on-campus gardens]. They’re really into eating healthy, and it’s great to see where the food comes from and see it go from a little seed to something edible.”

Jarrell, Horne and the other garden leaders hope to increase student participation in the organic garden this year. They encourage everyone to help out at least once, even if only for the experience.“Even if you just want to get your hands dirty of just learn a few things,” said Jarrell, “or whether you just want to be outside and enjoy that space and community, we encourage folks to come out and see it.”