The University of Kansas’ student garden has provided a way for students to get outside during the pandemic, students said. It also provides food for campus organizations like the Campus Cupboard.
Emme Schatz, a sophomore architecture major from Chicago, is one of the lead coordinators of the Earth Campus Garden, a community garden managed completely by KU students.
“Last year during COVID one day I just said, ‘I need to get out of this room,’” Shatz said. “I saw the program online and now I’m here.”
The 1,600-square-foot garden can be found on KU’s West Campus, behind the University Press of Kansas.
This year, students are tending to blueberries, raspberries, grapes, peas, eggplants, asparagus and other fruits and vegetables.
Schatz and her fellow coordinators Kelly Tran, a KU junior and global and international studies major, and Hiroko Kobayashi, a sophomore human biology and behavioral neuroscience major from Tokyo – along with their 30 other volunteers – have donated approximately 10 pounds of produce from the garden to the Campus Cupboard since Aug 23.
They are planning to donate 70 pounds by the end of the fall semester, Kobayashi said.
The garden is part of the KU Center for Community Outreach organization. Earth, which focuses on promoting and engaging in outdoor, environmental sustainability practices on campus and in the community, according to their website. All levels of gardening experience are welcome, with volunteers at the garden ranging from no experience to seasoned horticulturists.
Schatz had a little experience with her home garden before she came to KU.
“It was nothing like this. We just had some peppers and tomatoes,” she said. “I was definitely a beginner until I found out about Earth and all the produce they’re donating to people who are facing food insecurity.”
Now, as a coordinator for the garden, Schatz oversees the volunteers but continues to work the garden often. Schatz said students do not need prior gardening experience to help out at the garden.
“It’s OK if you break a few plants,” Schatz said. “I’ve definitely destroyed my fair share of potatoes on accident.”
New volunteers continue to join the fight against food insecurity, which is necessary as the garden continues to expand.
Laura Philips, who recently finished her undergraduate degree at KU, with majors in classical languages and ecology, said the garden has recently seen many upgrades.
Philips, who began working at the garden the first week of her freshman year, was a coordinator for all four years of college.
“It was the biggest part of my undergrad experience, and I loved every minute of it,” she said. “I worked really hard to expand the garden to 4,600-square-feet, add a water hydrant, built a shed, planted fruit trees and more.”
The garden’s contributions are a big part of the food donated to the Campus Cupboard, said Sara Chavez, a case manager with Student Support and Case Management and an overseer of the Campus Cupboard’s day-to-day operations.
“I would say that 90% of our produce is grown by Earth and made available to our students,” she said.
Students working with the garden receive a few hundred dollars from the CCO for expenses, and are planning a fundraiser this semester to help buy garden tools, plants and seeds, Kobayashi said.
“In the garden, students are given the chance to directly interact with the food production process, from planting to harvesting,” Kobayashi said, “The food produced also goes back into the community in a sustainable manner, and fights food insecurity within the KU campus.”