Students and faculty make campus community garden a reality


Photographs courtesy of Tiffany Chin

Dalton Homolka, News Reporter

A group of UIS students dedicated to making our campus cleaner, greener and more sustainable are working towards revamping a community garden on campus for students and community members alike. With the help of Dr. Megan Styles, a professor in the environmental studies department, these students hope to give new life to an old idea.

The garden – which is located by the Shepard House on Toronto Road – will function as a shared space for students, faculty, and community members to come together.

“Springfield has more community gardens than most cities of this size, and this will help connect UIS to the community in new and exciting ways,” said Styles.

According to the official UIS Campus Community Garden Facebook page, the purpose of the garden is to serve as a model of sustainability and act as a clear demonstration of UIS’s commitment to student involvement opportunities.

Although the campus garden was originally finished in 2006, organizers had difficulty finding students and faculty to tend the garden over the Summer months. This time, however, Styles says they’re approaching the project from a new angle.

“Instead of having students sign up to care for individual plots themselves, this will be a truly collaborative, communal garden where everyone tends and harvests the same space,” Styles said. “This will make it easier for us to get lots of people involved and make sure that it is cared for during the summer.”

The garden revamp was first conceived by a group of UIS students for their Introduction to Sustainability (ENS 271) class project during the previous fall semester. Although it started as a hypothetical project, several students expressed a keen interest in making the campus community garden a reality again.

Initially, the organic-only garden will be a 20-foot by 20-foot plot that will contain a variety of low-maintenance plants that were donated by Seed Savers International, an organization that helps gardeners by giving them access to heirloom seed varieties.

A host of groups in the Springfield community including Habitat for Humanity, Leadership for Life, the Chancellor’s Office, and the UIS grounds crew have donated their time, advice, and building materials that are essential to the campus garden project.

UIS Senior Erica Peak-Nordstrom, who is majoring in English with an ENS and WGS minor, says that the campus garden will provide an opportunity to strengthen the bonds between UIS and the Springfield community.

“To me, having a community garden on the UIS campus means having a place where community happens,” Nordstrom said. “It’s a place where students, faculty, staff, and other members of the UIS community can come together in a space dedicated to community, growth, nourishment, and the environment.”

One way that the garden will help contribute to a more sustainable campus is as a source of fresh and local food for campus dining.

“By providing some of our produce as food for campus dining, we are reducing the transportation and production costs and impacts of large-scale non-local agriculture,” Nordstrom said.

Another way the campus garden will make a real difference for UIS students and community members is as a learning experience that they can take home with them and share with friends and family.

“By working in the garden, people are learning how to take care of the earth, how to garden, and how to grow their own food,” Nordstrom said.

Future plans for the garden include a composting pile to recycle organic food waste from campus dining services and rain barrels to capture and recycle water for the garden, as well as an expansion of the lots where individuals can grow various vegetables, fruits, and herbs.

Styles would like to see an educational course that goes hand-in-hand with the garden, too.

“We’re starting small, but if all goes well, I would like to develop a class associated with the garden and work with students to make more of our campus ‘edible,’” Styles said.

The U of I campus in Springfield isn’t the only U of I institution to start a community garden; in 2014, the U of I campus in Urbana-Champaign received a $51,530 grant from the UIUC Student Sustainability Committee in order to build and operate a 48 allotment garden on campus.

All of the produce grown in their community garden belongs to the student gardeners or is sold to campus dining services in order to raise money for the Sustainability Committee and other student groups working towards a greener campus.

Perhaps most importantly, although markedly less measureable, is the campus community garden’s ability to raise awareness of environmental issues and sustainability on campus and in the community at large.

“Knowledge is one of the most powerful tools in creating a more sustainable environment,” Nordstrom said. “We hope that by making people aware of our efforts, it will inspire them to make green changes in their own lives.”

If you want to contribute to a greener campus at UIS by get involved with the campus community garden, check out the UIS Community Garden’s Facebook page, or contact Styles at [email protected]

There are two work days scheduled for Spring 2016 – Saturday 4/16 from 9am-1pm and Friday 4/29 from 9AM-1PM. Friday, April 29 will be the “official” opening day for the campus garden.

“Anyone who volunteers at any time will have dibs on the tasty produce come harvest time,” Styles said. “Students can also hang out in the garden whenever they like. This is YOUR garden; enjoy it, protect it, tend it, respect it.”