Students Plant Seeds in New Garden Beds Behind Snell Library
While students are studying for finals inside Snell, out back, students are participating in a different type of learning outside. Students are lathering up with sunscreen and listening to music before they start their class assignment: planting seeds. The seeds they are planting include spinach, onion, purple carrots and radishes in massive raised beds about two feet tall and four feet wide and eight feet long. The four beds in total line the space behind Snell and are near the railroads.
Professor Mariana Valencia Mestre oversaw the project and answered students’ questions. The students were a part of the Sustainable Agriculture class, which meets three days a week. The class is under the Marine and Environmental Science Department within the College of Science.
Steve Schneider, the Director of Horticulture, and Valencia Mestre have been working on this project for a little over a year. She approached him about the project, and he helped choose the location and construct the beds using locally sourced pine. To make the beds more resistant to pathogens, water and fungi, Steve used a propane torch designed for weeding to char the wood using a traditional Japanese technique called shou sugi ban. This technique involves carefully charring the surface of the wood to create a carbonized layer that is resistant to rot and pests.
“The idea is to really have a class where students have experiential learning rather than just passively sitting in the classroom and learning,” Valencia Mestre.
She is grateful that students have been “really energetic” and is looking forward to continuing upkeep with future students. In addition to growing in the raised beds, the class has been working with a lab in Behrakis and lightboxes in Holmes Hall to conduct experiments and grow seedlings to be transferred into the garden beds. Currently at Behrakis, the class is growing star mushrooms, thanks to the support of lab manager Kari Jensen.
The seeds planted were chosen because of student interest, though in the future, Valencia is hoping to expand to what the community needs. Valencia Mestre is planning on someday working with the mutual aid society on campus, or an outside organization that distributes produce to the community.
Students have been involved with the project from the beginning, they helped design and install the beds, as well as figure out what to do with the food.
Valencia Mestre is working to recruit volunteers for the summer from her other classes. Students who are interested in helping can reach her at [email protected]. Volunteers can reap the benefits and enjoy some of the food when it is ready.
As Valencia Mestre handed out clipboards with instructions, students chatted about the barred owl spotted outside. The class has lecture style classes twice a week and a lab at the end of the week where students can apply their knowledge in hands-on activities.
Third year environmental and sustainability sciences student Alegra Germain is excited about this project and the possibility of helping to combat food insecurity on campus while applying their knowledge. She is slightly worried about a potential drought this summer and is planning on volunteering. In the past, Germain worked with the arboretum as a co-op student.
“[It’s] certainly one of the most hands on ways I’ve actually been able to apply class knowledge in something that is also going to produce a tangible product for us and other students to enjoy, which is really cool,” Germain said. “It’s also just been a really cool way to like work with the other students in this class.”
Classmate Sam Walls, a third-year biology major, has also enjoyed this raised bed and numerous other projects. Students learned how to plant in different areas of the world and applied knowledge to evaluating how well the plants would grow behind Snell. One issue the class faced was soil drainage, the bed that Walls was planting seeds in had to have a hole installed underneath it to allow for proper draining. Walls is also planning on volunteering at the farm during the summer. He took the class to learn more about how to grow his own food and has loved it so far.
“There was a lot to learn with this project,” Walls said. “It looks like you’re just digging trenches and putting together these beds, but there’s a lot that goes into it.”
Written by Renée Abbott, April 28th, 2023