Grad student has growing ideas

Molly Collard wanted her fellow students at UW-Green Bay to become aware of the importance of locally grown, sustainable foods. So, she did something about it.

Collard, an Environmental Science and Policy graduate student from Green Bay, started a campus garden outside the doors of the University Union.

“I wanted to create awareness on campus about the issues of local and sustainable food,” said Collard, who never had a garden of her own before. “There are different ways we can produce food from the conventional methods.

“This alternative method may be better for you with healthier foods. It may be more cost-effective and (also) have environmental benefits.”

tomatoesThe campus garden, planted in early June, is about 1,200 square feet. It contains tomatoes, onions, peppers, potatoes, lettuce, edible flowers and more.

Student fees helped support startup costs of the garden and unsold tomato and pepper plants from the annual campus heirloom vegetable sale were some of the first to go in the ground.

“If we’re harvesting during the school year, we’d like to use some or all of it in cooking workshops,” led by nutrition Prof. Deb Pearson, Collard said. “We’re growing things that will lend well to preparing and eating on campus.”

Collard and several other students prepared the campus grounds for the garden in a greener way. Instead of tilling the soil, the prairie grasses that were growing there were mowed down and the clippings left in place. A base of biodegradable newspaper was laid down with mulch and compost added to the top of it before the seeds or seedlings were planted.

“We wanted to show people that you can turn a lawn into a garden,” Collar said. “Most people remove sod. Here, we’re building soils and adding organic matter to it. It should be more successful in the long run.”

garden_plantingIt is similar to the mid 1970s, when UW-Green Bay students managed an organic garden in an Earth-friendly way.

Collard, who is interested in renewable energy and sustainable agriculture, expects an even healthier garden next year as the ground becomes more fertile.

By then, she’ll have hopefully developed a student gardening organization to maintain the campus garden and oversee any student funds allocated to it.

“Hopefully, having the garden itself will raise some awareness and student will join that,” she said.

The student government resolution authorizing funding for the garden says that it will “serve as the focal point for hosting workshops and events for students with possible topics including… the importance of local and sustainable food, composting, seed germination/saving, and preparing food from the garden.”

The resolution also notes that colleges and universities spend more than $4 billion annually on food.

“This figure represents a significant portion of the national food system — one that young people can directly influence if we act together,” the resolution reads.