Student group opens first community garden

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Green thumbs on campus will soon have a garden to call their own.

After a semester’s worth of delays, UT’s Gardening Committee held their first community garden workday in East Austin on Saturday.

More than 50 people showed up throughout the day to help ready the site for use. Some volunteers pulled weeds, while others constructed and filled raised garden beds that portioned the 5,873-square-foot tract of land into plots to be rented out to University organizations and community members.

“We wanted to create a place for people to pursue their gardening desires,” said Daniella Lewis, the student coordinator heading the project. “I think there are a lot of people in dorms or apartments who want to be able to garden but obviously don’t have a yard.”

The committee was scheduled to begin work on the garden last semester, but its plans were put on hold when surface soil test results revealed trace amounts of lead present on the property. The top six inches of the site’s dirt have since been reconditioned to remove the lead.

The committee hopes the garden will raise awareness of food sustainability while providing organic produce for the UT community.

“Food is an important component of life,” said Mark McKim, a Campus Environmental Center recycling intern. “This is a great opportunity for students to not only learn about where food comes from but to grow it themselves.”

The committee is currently working with Jester Center executive chef Robert Mayberry to see if herbs grown in the community garden can be used in the building’s dining hall.

“We’re hoping to get a market started on campus to sell the produce grown here,” Lewis said. “The ultimate goal is to one day be able to provide 5 percent of UT’s fresh produce with our community gardens in a few years’ time.”

For the volunteers, the workday was a chance to learn a valuable skill while also helping to create something new and useful.

“I definitely didn’t know how to lay a planting bed before,” said mathematics junior Kuroush Nezafati. “I feel good about getting involved in something that you can see results in. The fact that some of the produce here could be used in campus cafeterias gives it more of a relativity to my life.”

The individually divided plots are available to either organizations or individuals in the community for $20 or $10 per semester, respectively. If the garden does well, it could expand to include additional plots of land.