Despite past struggles and uncertainties surrounding the community gardens, NAU campus garden organizers are working to promote new garden projects.
There are three gardens on campus: the Shand garden, the Students for Sustainable Living and Urban Gardening (SSLUG) garden and the Students Nurturing Alternatives in Landscaping (SNAIL) garden.
The Shand garden is primarily used in classes, while the SSLUG and SNAIL gardens are entirely student-led. This structure is partly due to various management changes. The SSLUG garden, which is located behind the Social and Behavioral Sciences West building, was the first to be established and has had multiple supervisors over the years, which is outlined in a previous article featured in The Lumberjack.
The SSLUG garden’s founder, Ian Dixon McDonald, started garden management in 2008. Jan Busco managed the garden from 2014 to 2016, until the organic gardener position was terminated due to a lack of funding. Senior Bridgette Brados has been the head organic gardener since 2018. Brados is also a member of the Living Laboratories and Learning Gardens (L3G) Committee.
L3G Committee is a team of NAU Sustainable Communities (SUS) faculty and students. Rosemary Logan, SUS faculty and L3G Committee member, said the committee makes the gardens an integral part of the curriculum and is a living demonstration of ecological functions.
The committee met Oct. 2 to discuss its Green Fund Proposal and to coordinate efforts across campus. This proposal is one of the committee’s most recent attempts to seek improvements and funding for the gardens. Additionally, it is designed to address the aesthetics and ecological integrity of the gardens.
The committee’s meeting was organized by Logan and was attended by Brados, along with Dawn Hawley, geography planning and recreation faculty member; campus landscape architect Janel Wilcox; SUS student Abby Lundberg; SUS student Darren Bingham; and SUS student Heather White. Logan said everyone involved in the L3G committee shares interests and goals to protect the campus gardens and the learning opportunities they provide.
White said her experience with growing her own food is why she is involved as a graduate assistant in the L3G Committee. She said it is a satisfying and valuable endeavor that deepens her connection to food cultivation and the outdoors.
“I think putting your hands in the soil is incredibly important to understanding the deeper aspects of reciprocity and placing ourselves back into an ecosystem that western society has removed us from,” White said.
The L3G Committee aims to have its Green Fund Proposal accepted and receive funding for the gardens’ current needs. Past funding sources have included the environmental sciences program and the environmental caucus.
While the Green Fund does not currently provide funding, the main goal of the recent proposal is to have the committee’s projects approved and funded for upcoming years. During the meeting, the major plans included in the proposal were discussed and explained. The projects for the three community gardens focus on improving their overall appearance and function, in addition to presenting cohesion and unity among them. The proposal also included increased garden seating, which would allow professors to conduct classes in an outdoor setting.
Additionally, the proposal referenced the implementation of multiple signs, kiosks and plant labels to provide more information on the gardens. It also discussed the installation of wheelchair pathways, which would be paired with raised beds to improve the gardens’ accessibility. Finally, the proposal included a rainwater harvesting and drip irrigation system to ensure energies are not wasted when watering plants.
Other issues addressed in the discussion included the committee’s ongoing search for experienced gardeners to work on-site over the summer, which would provide more support when students are out of school.
During the meeting, Logan also said they are pursuing funds to hire a new general assistant for a 5-hour weekly position, specifically to coordinate campus initiatives for the SSLUG garden. Brados said it may be beneficial to seek out a master gardener for the SSLUG garden.
As the SSLUG head organic gardener, she added that this was the first year the student volunteers did not have a summer mentor for the sustainable living garden. The garden is all organic, covers roughly 3,000 square feet, is home to abundant wildlife — including over 200 plant species — and has its own student-built greenhouse. A master gardener position could prove useful in improving the garden’s organization and structure in the future.
Some improvements are already in action, such as efforts by White and Brados to increase the number of volunteers for the gardens. White, a first-year SUS grad student, is working on updating information on the school’s website to include volunteer hours, email lists and locations to help interested persons find this information easily.
Oftentimes, the number of volunteers varies due to the academic season being misaligned with the growing season. The growing season is during the summer when most students and volunteers are on summer leave, which regularly means there are not enough people to help during the cultivation process. Brados said the SSLUG garden has approximately five to eight dedicated volunteers, but this year, it has accumulated a few more.
One of the student volunteers, freshman Kaylee Hodson, said volunteers can see the numerous possibilities once they get involved. In her case, after being introduced to the SSLUG garden in her first-year seminar class, she said she found a new love for gardening.
“It wasn’t something that I thought I’d want to spend my time doing, but it’s something that I have a newfound passion for,” Hodson said.
One way they unite the public is through the distribution of food, Brados said. The gardens utilize a hierarchy of distribution, in which small amounts of produce are first given to the volunteers who helped cultivate it. Produce is also occasionally sold to markets, and the profit is allocated back into the gardens’ funding. Food is also given to Flagstaff residents through donations.
In addition to the produce they provide, Brados added the gardens also present a learning opportunity for the community. For example, students from W. F. Killip Elementary School visited the gardens to learn about sustainability and were able to take home produce for themselves.
Lundberg, a first-year SUS grad student, also shared her thoughts on the garden’s purpose and the lessons it teaches.
“In my opinion, in a world where the upcoming student generation is increasingly interested in addressing climate change, it will be more and more competitive for universities to foster a visible and tangible connection to the environment on their campuses,” Lundberg said.
This meeting allowed faculty, chairs and students to work together across departments and colleges to collaborate on topics that relate to campus gardens as well as promote change through current and future proposals.