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 Nourishing Sustainability

Edible Landscape:
Campus produce is the root of this summer’s grounds maintenance

Edible Landscape
Garden located above the Life Science building on the UMD campus
Burlap covered straw bales
Straw bales wrapped in burlap coffee bean sacks frame the garden plot

An idea that came from 2,000 miles away in San Francisco has inspired the new landscape projects around campus this summer. Three new large gardening operations broke ground last May and are now beginning to take root and grow.

“The edible landscape is meant to educate students and staff, as well as the community, about different food systems and healthy eating. It also teaches them about sustainability and anthropology,” said Candice Richards, associate director of Custodial and Ground Services for the Facilities Management Department.

The Slow Food Nation Victory Garden located in front of the San Francisco City Hall motivated the construction for the raised straw bale garden located over the Life Science building. The four large rectangle plots, which are outlined in coffee bean burlap sack covered straw bales, house a variety of vegetables including eggplant, beans, and onions.

“We heard about this and decided to try the same thing here on campus,” said Steve Schilling, executive assistant of Facilities Management. “There was a lot of interest from various groups so the only big question was where to put the raised beds.”

This particular garden not only focuses on healthy eating and sustainability, but it also serves as a way to help control the temperature of the rooms that lie below the concrete surface.

“It will be really interesting to see if it works and really cools the site off,” Landscape Supervisor Peggy Dahlberg said. “We will keep records and hopefully it will lead to the removal of the concrete slab and the building of a completely “green” roof.”

A salsa garden and a three sisters garden are the other two large garden additions that have been planted and maintained this summer. The salsa garden hosts tomatoes, onions, and peppers as well as other ingredients used to make salsa. The three sisters garden contains corn, squash, and beans. According to Richards the squash shades the corn roots, while the beans crawl up the corn stalk. Each plant also uses different nutrients so the soil is used to the fullest.

Plentiful Volunteers and Hearty Hopes
Since the beginning stages of this project there has been a lot of volunteer interest from students, faculty and staff, campus organizations such as Students For Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA), and even people in the community.

“Right now we use the volunteers for the weekends, and they help out by maintaining the gardens like watering and weeding them when needed,” Volunteer Coordinator Brian Bluhm said. “We will definitely be more busy in the fall because of the harvest, and that is when we will need the most help.”

With planting completed, big plans are being formed as to what to do with the vegetables when it comes time to harvest them.

“The foods will be incorporated into cooking workshops for students, stressing the importance of fruits and vegetables in the diet, taste testing with different varieties of fresh locally grown produce, and easy steps to preparing or cooking the produce, even in the dorm room,” said Dori Decker, community program specialist with UMD Health Services.

The total cost of the project was around $5,000 with most of the money coming from the Campus Beautification Fund. Alakef Coffee Roasters, located in downtown Duluth, donated the burlap sacks, according to Richards.

“This is just the first year so we are kind of making it up as we go,” Richards said. “But we are having fun doing it.”

Watch a video of the construction of the straw bale garden beds at:


Written by Samantha Lefebvre

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