Fairfield garden serves needs of students

Photo Credit: Loan Le/The Mirror

The collective efforts of Fairfield University students, faculty and administration in 2010 produced a sustainable garden that continues to push the school towards more green initiatives.

Located west of the Dolan School of Business, the 3,000 square feet garden hosts annual and perennial herbs and vegetables like butter squash, tomatoes, jalapeno and Swiss chard.

The produce grown depends on what students might like.

The concept of sustainability deals with the notion that the human race can depend on the natural environment for their survival. Humans and nature can function in unison so that the present and future can be secured.

Junior Jesus Nunez, a garden intern since summer 2011, pushes for the school to become more environmentally friendly. The garden tries to use as little chemicals as possible.

“We have enough energy issues as it is,” said Nunez. “The only way we can really survive as a human race, especially as our populations grow, is to cut down on energy use, on the use of pesticides and the use of fertilizers . . . The more we learn about how to grow our own food, how to grow it in a natural way, the better for everybody.”

Associate Professor of biology Tod Osier Ph.D., said: “I feel like the garden is coming into its own, but it still is evolving every year. New projects like the bees and looking into growing herbal teas are new areas of interest and very exciting. We are continuing to work with the chefs in the campus center to refine what we grow.”

However, the garden has encountered its share of problems since its founding.

“There is also the very real issue of just being successful in actually producing the crops that you want to grow in spite of the weather, insects and disease – that always keeps things interesting,” Osier said.

Nunez also mentioned that the garden once had to deal with powdery mildew, symptoms include white spots that form on the surface of the vegetables. The occasional cat or dog might sneak into the garden, but the deer might pose a problem, since they are herbivores and could eat the vegetables.

To combat these problems and prevent repeat incidents, different gardening techniques are employed. Every year, Nunez said they do crop rotation by planting vegetables in different areas within the land each season, in order to slow the spread of pests and diseases. To enrich and manage the soil fertility, cover crops, such as legumes, are planted.

Nunez and volunteers go in ‘work parties’ on Sundays at 2 p.m. and Tuesdays at 4 p.m. to weed and clean up the garden.

“Facilities Management has also provided a lot of support by supplying mulch, compost, and top soil,” added Associated Professor of Biology Jennifer Klug, Ph.D., also an advisor.

The garden contributes to the campus’ dining services and residential life.

The dining services (Sodexo) use all of the herbs in the garden according to Resident Dining Supervisor Amy Krosky.

Recently, on Sept. 17, for a Bellarmine lunch, 75 percent of the produce used had been from the garden.

Sodexo employs professionally trained chefs who adapt the daily menus to the naturally grown produce that is available in season.

From Sept. 16 to 22, the school participated with 64 other locations in Farm-to-Chef Week, an event promoted by Connecticut Department of Agriculture which connects chefs and food service establishments with local farmers.

Junior Laura Ballanco, a former Leaders for Environmental Action at Fairfield member, remembers the previous ‘Farm to Chef’ weeks that the dining service has participated in. According to her, the taste of local produce is noticeable.

“You can taste the freshness. I felt like I was eating at home,” Ballanco said.

The garden is also not limited to campus use. According to the Fairfield Dining Service website, harvests are done during the fall and then the garden donates a portion to the Connecticut Food Bank through Harvest Now, a non-profit organization that pairs garden communities up with local food banks.

Though mainly funded by the Division of Administration of Student Services, the Office of Academic Engagement and the Biology Department and Program on the Environment also keep the garden afloat.

“Fairfield should be at the forefront of these agricultural-environmental issues, because it’s the future,” said Nunez, “because then everyone has the means to access good, quality food that has low-impact on the earth.”

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