Antioch University: Building a Garden Community

Students plant peppers, tomatoes and basil.

Case Study 10

Enjoyable green spaces.  This is a topic on the forefront of many minds these days where school gardens are becoming a norm and the concept of edible landscapes is blooming.  At Antioch’s campus in Keene, NH, the lawn is now growing food for the on-site café  and is one of the most popular outdoor classroom spaces.

Four garden boxes, each two feet high and six feet long, create corners for an open space where people can sit and socialize, classes can meet, musicians can play, and inspiration can be derived.  In its first summer a variety of vegetables and herbs filled each bed, including peppers, tomatoes, basil, Swiss chard, pole beans, sweet peas, carrots, and much more!  This fall as leaves started to drop, produce was harvested, garlic was planted, and plans for winterization began materializing.  Throughout its first season students across departments combined efforts to create educational and funding sources, and the Antioch community as a whole is a buzz with excitement about the possibilities.

Project Beginnings

Antioch University New England is a unique location for a school garden.  It is a graduate school that caters to a wide range of disciplines including clinical psychology, integrated learning, environmental studies and more.  ANE values ecological stewardship and place-based learning experiences, and the creation of an on-site vegetable garden is an example of these values.

In March of 2009, a number of Antioch students, faculty and staff attended the workshop “Grow Food Everywhere” hosted by Deb Habib of Seeds of Solidarity.  Discussions following this workshop revolved around the desire to have a working, edible  landscape on Antioch’s campus.  A  few months later, the Antioch Garden Committee formed, a garden proposal was submitted to the campus president, and plans for construction were approved.

Work Study Students Sam and Jess get ready for a work party.

An Antioch student took the project on for her summer practicum and with loads of support hit the ground running.  By July 2009, four garden boxes were built and a variety of vegetables planted.  In the words of one volunteer, “Something beautiful has begun.”

Supplies for building the boxes were made available by local farms, students, faculty, staff and alumni.  Over $500 was collected through in-kind donations and a gift from the graduating class of the Environmental Studies department.  This provided the capital needed to buy the lumber and a few maintenance supplies.

Over 155 volunteer hours were committed to making this project a reality.  Currently there are two paid work study positions that coordinate the garden efforts and are supervised by a faculty member.  The garden is now able to use compost that is produced on-site from collected food waste and a center garden bed was created, which will host a garden of medicinal plants starting in the spring of 2010.

Up and Running

The theme of Antioch’s garden is truly “many hands make light work.”  Two garden coordinators host ‘work parties’ where everyone is welcome to come and participate in garden related events such as: planting garlic, harvesting produce, turning the compost pile, putting the beds to sleep for the winter, or participating in fundraising events.  The work parties have been an opportunity for new folks to meet each other, a great time to socialize after a day of classes, and an opportunity to take part in producing the food that is eaten on campus.

The first garden fund raiser, a sustainability themed book fair,  to raise funds for the purchase of materials for spring planting and project expansion was a campus-wide success.

Two different cold frames were built and more greens have been planted to extend the growing season and  provide an educational experience for overwintering with small, box gardens.  Students collaborate with the facilities staff as well as the landscaping crew to enhance the communication between different parties dedicated to preserving and maintaining the beauty and integrity of Antioch’s campus. The gardens are five months old now, and already students are incorporating the gardens into class curriculum and master’s projects – the medicinal garden being the first master’s project.

Hurdles to Overcome

There is concern that there may be gaps in leadership for the maintenance of the gardens from season to season or year to year because this is a student led initiative aligned with the school calendar and not the growing season.  Staffing the work study positions throughout the summer, the attraction of animals or rodents and the loss of open, green space have also elicited some concern from the Antioch community.  There is also a lack of continuous funding for project expansion.

Evaluation tools are being developed to help track this information. Small grants have been considered and more research is being done as to what is available, but there are few grants that cater to smaller scale, vegetable gardens at higher level institutions.  The location of the campus has also raised concerns about the soil quality for the gardens.  Soil tests were sent to UNH prior to planting, and the results did not indicate any threats to the health of the soil.  If the program hopes to expand to other areas of the campus, soil quality will need to be considered in those locations.

Planning for the Future

Students continue to express interest in using the gardens or garden space for class projects, faculty are considering how the gardens can be used as an experiential learning tool, and the committee hopes to expand the growth of food both for the purposes of the on-site café, as well as the local community kitchen.   Plans are being made to utilize the garden for classes such as Soil Ecology and Place-based Learning.  Entomology, a class held in the summer that studies

A garden inhabitant joining in on the building of the boxes.

the eight major orders of insects, could utilize the garden for observations.  Two students are currently planning a “Quest” that would have students finding items or investigating aspects of the garden and compost piles.

There are other students researching ideas for how new classes could be offered at Antioch including Eco-Therapy  and Sustainable Agriculture.  These visions for the future of the garden space are just at the tip of the iceberg. Student groups are beginning to brainstorm ideas for continuing to make our campus a “green” working landscape—and the expansion of the garden space on campus is a top priority.  Beautiful things truly are happening on ANE’s campus.

Advice for Other Schools/Projects

  • Allow for student-led initiatives to grow and find ways to help mobilize their efforts
  • Use human resources including friends, family, students, parents, local experts and community members
  • Stir up excitement for your project through brainstorming sessions and community forums
The Garden Committee and friends celebrating the completion of the box building.

2 thoughts on “Antioch University: Building a Garden Community

  1. Jessica Skinner

    Thanks for the compliments on this project! The design for the beds was brought to the group by one of the volunteers, and they are actually lined with cardboard, not wood. Using cardboard in raised beds is certainly not an original idea, but we thought it would be a great way to create some micro-habitats for worms and other soil organisms, it recycles some extra material right on site, and it will end up breaking down to become a part of the soil.

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