Gardening for good: Students' community plot labors will benefit food shelves

  • Article by: PATTI ZARLING , Press-Gazette Media
  • Updated: July 22, 2013 - 12:06 AM

DE PERE, Wis. — As with many gardeners, weeding and watering are among the biggest challenges for St. Norbert College juniors Malorie Imhoff and Maria Howe.

But the duo digs into the dirt with smiles. They helped organize a quarter-acre school community garden this year, which is beginning to sprout tomatoes, corn, lettuce, onions, beans and more. The idea is to grow food that can be shared with local shelters or food pantries, or used to feed students on campus, Green Bay Press-Gazette Media reported (http://gbpg.net/1aomUoT).

The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay also has a number of student-managed gardens. Advisers say it follows a national trend of students becoming interested in healthful, locally grown produce.

"I think students are concerned about genetically modified foods and sustainability," said Mike Stearney, who advises some UW-Green Bay gardeners. "Farmers markets are busy, people are looking for organic food. Young people are attuned to things and are passionate about the movement."

Howe said the St. Norbert project began a year ago. Students discussed food sustainability in a peace and justice class, and some agreed a campus garden could put words into action.

But it wasn't an easy process. Organizers looked at a number of locations and were turned down a few times before finding a spot near Fourth and Marsh streets. The school provided money to start the garden, and community members pitched in, Howe said.

The students considered vegetables that might work well for shelters or pantries, such as tomatoes and onions, as well as some of their favorites.

They plan to donate the food, and maybe even do some cooking demonstrations at local shelters.

University of Wisconsin-Green Bay students also are getting their hands into the soil.

The campus SLO Food Alliance began a garden about five years ago near the school union, Stearney said. SLO stands for sustainable, local, organic, and he said students are passionate about the garden, which has grown over the years.

The garden started with "a few tomato plants and a row of carrots," Stearney said. Today it's a few thousand feet in permanent raised beds. The school also has a flax garden and a traditional Native American Three Sisters garden.

Students sell produce to faculty, staff, students and the campus food services program, he said.

"They've grown to include strawberries, soybeans, peppers, corn," Stearney said. "And they also include some more exotic things that people might not have tried before."

The project pays one student to water and weed, and others stop by to help out in the summer months. Plants are started in a greenhouse in March.

"I think the students learn you have to have a sustained interest," Stearney said. "You can't garden sporadically, you can't just plant and go away. I think that can be something new for students and something they enjoy."

Howe said St. Norbert students visit the garden almost daily to water, weed or gather produce.

"It's great just to be out here, working the earth and how we treat it," she said. "When you see things grow from seed to a huge plant, you appreciate food you have."

Imhoff said the reward is worth the effort.

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