Today: Feb 29, 2024

Sustainable Southern-Plant it Forward

photo courtesy southernct.edu
The community garden that anyone can request a plot to plant what they desire.

REBECCA BAINERGeneral Assignment Reporter

Southern’s campus is offering a new way to get involved in the environment: The Sustainable Southern-Plant it Forward Initiative urban agriculture demonstration project, which ultimately has goals to help produce food for urban environments.

Patrick Heidkamp, assistant professor of geography, said the campus is located in what is known as a federally recognized “fruit desert,” which Heidkamp said is an area in which it is hard for some of the population to get healthy foods.

“One of the ideas,” said Heidkamp, “is to help alleviate the problem of fruit desert areas where the population doesn’t have easy access to supermarkets where you can buy fresh vegetables, fresh fruit.” Heidkamp said fruit will be grown at Southern to demonstrate this can be done in an urban environment.

“We basically want to use it as a demo project,” said Heidkamp, “where the community can learn that you can grow fruit and vegetables in fairly small places in an urban environment.”

Susan Cusato, associate professor of science education and environmental studies, said the initiative began last spring when Victor Triolo, associate professor emeritus of information and library science, came up with the idea of a campuswide orchard to foster heritage fruit and look at a number of ways to grow fruit in an urban environment.
“Right now there’s some stone fruit like peaches, apricots, nectarines, plums, those sorts of things that have a pit in the middle,” said Cusato. “Then to the left there’s going to be apples and pears.”

The plan is that the food produced may be used by students, given to Conn Hall or even donated, but Cusato said the initiative is also a great research project.

“We’ll see which species produce a heartier fruit, which ones are more susceptible to insect damage or don’t do well without the pesticides,” said Cusato. “We can help give people an idea in an urban environment which species would do best in New Haven if you want to grow it organically.”

According to Cusato, it is important for people to understand how they can grow their own food especially in emergency situations.
“There’s a real movement for people to feel that they are more in control of their future and responsible for their own well being,” said Cusato. “This provides an opportunity to help feed your family, to support yourself, be more independent, less vulnerable. Even in the recent hurricane people who have their food in their own backyard didn’t have to wait in line to get bread and milk.”
Suzanne Huminksi, instructor of environmental studies, said anybody who would like to be involved has the opportunity to be involved and to help maintain the orchard does not require vast knowledge of gardening.
“We’re still developing the way the program will be shaped,” said Huminski, “but it needs to be a community effort.”

One group helping is the freshman inquiry classes where students are learning how to help care for these outdoor spaces, said Huminski.
“Those students, many of them have never set foot in a garden before or in an orchard,” said Huminksi, “Nevermind be involved with taking care of it. And since there are a lot of sets of hands for us, we’ll teach them what they need to know for the particular job we’re asking them to do.”
Huminski said the possibility for people to become involved and make this project succeed has been demonstrated by the way in which graduate students helped fix up the community garden by planting it, installing a better fence and maintaining it.
“They did all of the planting in the garden,” said Huminski. “There are also some community plots in the garden and they helped coordinate that.” The plots are areas in the community garden for individuals such as faculty, staff and students to do what they want.  “We’d like to expand that again next year and make the community part of it bigger,” said Huminski. “That’s what we think will be a very good way to sort of get the structure needed to keep the garden going over years.”
Cusato said Southern is one of many campuses doing this type of initiative and there is a big interest in sustainability.
“We are at a point where sustainability is not an option in our curriculum,” said Cusato. “Students need to know how to live with less environmental impact on the globe.”

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