Garden Brings Students Closer to Sustainable Living

Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Gardening Club Plots

Early Success: Taylor Secrest founded the Gardening Club during his freshman year to make fresh produce more available on campus and kindle an interest in gardening in his fellow students. The club reached more than two dozen members in its first year.

Adorning a quiet green meadow, a modest walk from busy classrooms and laboratories on campus, a lush new garden is taking root after being planted last spring by members of the institute's new Gardening Club.

Sprouting up from its black soil are tomatoes, peppers, celery, cabbage, lettuce, spinach, and other crispy produce. And, if all goes well, these crops may someday fill the dinner plates of hungry classmates.

"A lot of people think it's impossible to grow your own food," says sophomore Taylor Secrest, a chemical engineering major who launched the club last year. It now boasts more than two-dozen student members. The organization's goal is to teach students about agriculture while introducing them to farm-fresh food. "Most people don't think about where their food comes from," he says.

Last spring, club members built 14 raised planting beds and later filled the beds with 32 tons of soil. Then, unused grassland on the east side of campus was transformed into a fertile garden. Hoop houses are being planned to permit year-round growing, and a deer fence needs to be built around the garden.

"I love agriculture and teaching others about agriculture," remarks Juliann Apple, a sophomore civil engineering major and the club's vice president. After growing up in a central-Indiana farming family, Apple says working in the campus garden "makes me feel like I'm at home."

Several club members are alumni of the Home for Environmentally Responsible Engineering program, a campus living-learning community for first-year students interested in the impact engineers and scientists can have in the world. The garden reflects their commitment to sustainability. Dining hall food waste provides compost material, irrigation comes from a nearby spring-fed pond through a solar-powered pump, and flowers and other plants serve as natural insect repellent.

The next step will be introducing farm-fresh produce to Rose-Hulman students. Club leaders are working with the new campus food service provider, Bon Appetit, to get the garden's produce on the daily food service menu.

"Taylor and I have plans to hold canning classes with the produce that comes from the garden," adds Apple. "Also, we have considered organizing a cooking class in the new space that will be available in the student union."

Gardening experience is not a requirement for club membership. In fact, novice gardeners are readily welcomed.

"I would love to see more students who don't have any knowledge in gardening join the club," says Apple. "The Gardening Club is my way of continuing my passion for agriculture at Rose-Hulman."