Stags in the garden at Fairfield University

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The harvest is in at Fairfield University.

“It’s so exciting to see it grow,” said garden intern Emma Bryant, ’15, one of two undergraduates who have been tending the University’s 3,000 square foot campus community garden this summer. Its bounty - vegetables, herbs and garlic – is being used by campus chefs as ingredients in student meals like a big batch of pesto with pasta recently on the menu in the dining hall.

Overseen by Biology Department Associate Professors Jennifer Klug and Tod Osier, the organic garden is an outdoor classroom for teaching sustainability and the value of growing your own food. Students in “Biology of Food” (BI74) will be planting lettuce in the garden this week while learning about soil, nutrients and weeds, and “Ecology and Society” (BI75) students will attend class there too this fall, for instance. It’s also a laboratory of sorts for students such as Jesus Nunez, ’14, and Tess Brown, ’07, MFA ‘11, who helped install a hive of Italian honeybees to learn about pollination. For garden intern, Hillary Maxson, ‘14, a biology major/environmental studies minor, the garden is a place to do her Capstone project on how soil conditions impact the nutritional quality of tomatoes.

“I took the International Environmental Politics course with Dr. David Downie where I learned about GMOs [genetically modified organisms],” said Maxson, showing a visitor around the garden, located across from the Early Learning Center. “That made me say, ‘I need to learn about where my food is coming from, so I applied to work here.’ ”

Planting at the garden began in late May, specifically timed so that the harvest would generally come in when students are back on campus after Labor Day. Its 18 raised beds include carrots and other root vegetables, perennials herbs like rosemary, as well as hot and sweet peppers. Kale and other food were planted just to introduce kids to new food choices.

“Summer squash, cherry tomatoes, jalapenos and lots of herbs have been brought to the dining hall so far,” said Dr. Klug, associate professor of biology, central to a rotating group of faculty, staff, administrators and students who help tend the garden.

For Bryant, a vegetarian, the garden has been a major lesson in nutrition – and an opportunity to try healthy new recipes using its produce. Toward that end, she’s chronicled her experiments in “Eating with Emma” (http://eatingwithemma.tumblr.com/). The blog follows the many drinks and dishes she and Maxson have unveiled at weekly campus luncheons, such as Chamomile Iced Tea and Swiss Chard Dip.

“It’s important to open peoples’ eyes to good nutrition,” said Bryant, an English major with a concentration in creative writing from Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. “Like you can use kale this way or that way. I like showing people yummy recipes.”

Meanwhile, Maxson has blogged her journey to living a more sustainable and organic life at “Harvest by Hillary” (http://harvesthillary.wordpress.com/2013/06/13/animals-in-the-garden/).

“The food industry is so commercialized,” said Maxson, of Old Saybrook, Conn. “Now I know how to grow everything. I’m really conscious of what I eat and I’m hoping other students learn from the garden to be aware of where their food comes from.”

The three-year-old garden’s origins can be traced to the Campus Sustainability Committee (CSC), as well as graduate Dana August, ’11, former co-director of Leaders of Environmental Awareness at Fairfield (LEAF). The CSC is working to reducing the campus carbon footprint while raising awareness about the importance of being good stewards of the Earth. For more info about the garden, visit http://faculty.fairfield.edu/fairfieldgarden/.

Fairfield University is a Jesuit University, rooted in one of the world’s oldest intellectual and spiritual traditions. More than 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students from 36 states, 47 foreign countries, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are enrolled in the University’s five schools. In the spirit of rigorous and sympathetic inquiry into all dimensions of human experience, Fairfield welcomes students from diverse backgrounds to share ideas and engage in open conversations. The University is located in the heart of a region where the future takes shape, on a stunning campus on the Connecticut coast.