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Amid herbs and squash, a sense of community sprouts

The new Lehigh Community Garden attracted two dozen planters and harvesters in its first year.

On a 90-degree July day, Nichole Gracely braved a scorching midday sun to weed and water her garden on the Goodman Campus. Gracely, a first-time gardener, had turned a 10-foot-by-15-foot plot of dirt on a former corn field into a lush garden of sunflowers, herbs, zucchini, summer and patty pan squash, tomatoes, tomatillos, lettuce and chili peppers.

Gracely, a graduate student in American Studies, is one of two dozen students, faculty and staff members tending plots in the new Lehigh Community Garden (LCG) on the Goodman Campus near the office of transportation services.

Gardeners pay a nominal fee and keep their produce. They enclosed their spaces this year with an eight-foot tall deer fence, erected a shed, and procured two 300-gallon water barrels, along with a mower and tools.

“I’ve always wanted to have a garden, but the opportunity never presented itself,” says Gracely. “I’ve immensely enjoyed this experience.”

John Pettegrew, associate professor of history, says gardeners like Gracely are part of a larger national movement.

“LCG is part of a huge social movement that is reevaluating the growing, distribution and consumption of food,” says Pettegrew, who helped bring the garden to fruition.

More than fun and creativity

“As more and more people—political scientists and diplomats included—talk about ‘food security’ and ‘food terrorism,’ it shows that how we eat, in addition to being fun and creative and pleasurable, is rife with political importance and material consequence.”

The new gardeners say the LCG also provides a sense of community.

“Gardening side by side with fellow Lehigh folks has been a great experience,” says Julia Maserjian, the digital library project coordinator in LTS. “We all have a common interest in organic gardening and a desire to share resources with the campus and local community.”

A fixture at the garden is Laura Deutsch. Along with LCG director Matthew Sanderson, assistant professor of sociology, Deutsch manages a Market Garden, which boasts 250 vegetable and herb plants. The produce from the Market Garden is sold to outlets and donated to food pantries.

“This project fit in perfectly with my academic interests,” says Deutsch, a graduate student in environmental policy design and a representative on the Lehigh Environmental Advisory Group (LEAG). “It not only allowed me to learn about gardening and the importance of locally grown, pesticide-free and organic produce, but also helped me learn about policy as well.”

Deutsch was one of three environmental policy design graduate students in Sanderson’s global food systems and sustainable alternatives course, which focuses on the globalization of food and the industrialization of agriculture, and explores alternative forms of agriculture that address issues of food insecurity and environmental degradation.

“One such alternative is urban community gardening, and we examined the promises of, and the challenges facing, community gardening as a means of providing access to affordable, fresh, healthy food while reducing dependence on environmentally unsustainable practices. The students got hands-on experience 'in the field' as part of the course, and they were critical to initial success of the garden,” says Sanderson, who with his wife grew 75 pounds of tomatoes.

In the future, Sanderson hopes to open additional plots for new gardeners and to expand research and teaching activities at the garden. An earth and environmental sciences class will collect soil samples to compare carbon and nitrogen concentration and carbon dioxide emissions with other places on campus. Another student has expressed interest in working on a sustainable water collection project at the garden. 

 

Story by Tricia Long

Posted on Thursday, September 16, 2010

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