University students and staff got their hands dirty Oct. 15 planting carrots, radishes, spinach and other vegetables that will someday become part of the salad bar in the Irvine Commons.
This was the second planting of the University's Sustainable Farm, which is managed by the Office of Community Service Learning. Director Tony Mueller describes it as “the culmination of a lot of serendipitous elements coming together,” meaning the farm is a direct result of an involved community, including not only the efforts of student volunteers and work-study employees, but also the enthusiasm of the University's onsite catering company Bon Appétit, Facilities Management and the generosity of the local Three Sisters Farm.
The farm began out of a student initiative to create a more sustainable community. Jeremy Kalmus is a senior in the environmental management program at the College of Arts and Sciences who has worked since spring 2008 to create a community garden on the Redlands campus. In a class on square-foot and backyard gardening, students designed a community garden for a plot in San Bernardino. When city budget cuts prevented the class from executing their design, the idea was implemented on the University campus--first as a 100-square-foot community garden near Ann Peppers Art Center and now a three-acre plot behind the Brockton Avenue Apartments.
Vegetables from the first planting in spring were sold to Bon Appétit and served in the salad bar of the Irvine Commons during the summer. This second planting is planned to grow in increments, so that smaller harvests will be sold to Bon Appetit several times throughout the season.
“We are learning as we go,” said Rory Byrne, program coordinator of sustainable gardening and community outreach. Since the first planting, staff and students working in the garden said they have gained practical knowledge from the first planting experience.
Byrne calls the garden a “natural farm.” Planting, weeding and harvesting are all done by hand or with tools and they are considered a “Farm-to-Fork” vendor. Produce is received by Bon Appétit, which chooses the farm’s local, natural produce over something ‘certified organic’ that might come from outside of the Redlands community.
Brett Martin, the resident district manager of Bon Appétit, has promised to work with students and community service learning. Byrne said, “whatever we grow, they will buy.”
“The concept of a community garden is not a new one,” Byrne said. "During World War II communities grew victory gardens. Gardens are popular again today, but have a different motivation. Today on the Redlands campus, students, employees, and the community are gardening because we don’t like the direction the food industry is moving.”
Students help to plant and harvest, and bring in information from their academic classes and apply it to how the garden should be cultivated.
Rafael Fernandes, a senior in the Johnston Center with an emphasis in urban agriculture, is hoping to contribute to the Sustainable Farm through his studies. He is using GIS to make a “living map” that will be able to gauge how well different plants will grow and collect data on soil composition, water, and compost. He also hopes to develop an "insectarary" to attract beneficial insects to the community garden, build a business portfolio, and create a marketing campaign.
“Why wouldn’t a school have a garden to grow healthier food that feeds more healthy people? If we can have an educational system to show us how to eat and garden and cook we will make a healthier society as a whole,” he said.
The farm grew entirely out of student determination. Byrne said, “The garden is happening because the students asked for it. They grow vegetables and we sell them to Bon Appétit. We are showing people that you can have a garden on your campus.”
Mueller added that the project is only possible because of “the passionate student workforce dedicated to keeping the garden going.”
The Sustainable University of Redlands Farm is still under development, but will include campus community plots to be used by students, teachers, clubs and organizations and for community outreach. Senior Katie Ferrell commented that “it is very cool to see everything realized. It makes me proud to be a Redlands student. The garden shows that we have pride in our community.”