By Caleb Forbes
The new Grinnell College Garden displays the efforts of countless volunteers in the form of giant, vibrant, leafy goodness. An extensive collection of individuals have contributed to a community effort to make sustainable gardening happen, and the fruits of their labor have been provided to the Dining Hall as well as to Mid-Iowa Community Action, Inc. (MICA).
Expanding across 80 square feet behind Food House on East Street, the garden is now ADA compliant, utilizes a drip irrigation system and contains over 90 varieties of plants. While the space was originally intended for a new college farm, it is instead home to 20 raised garden beds, a Hugelkultur mound, a hoop house, benches and tables, as well as a shed and with room for more. Already, the garden has supplied at least 150 pounds of fresh produce to the Dining Hall as well as 50 pounds to MICA.
The fresh produce that grows out of the garden is delivered to the Dining Hall about an hour after harvest.
“As it comes in, we try and find the best fit for it and get the most exposure for the students so that they can enjoy it the most,” said Executive Chef Scott Turley.
The Dining Hall puts the weekly deliveries of fresh food where they can as quickly as possible, oftentimes in the salad bar, but also in Catering Services dishes, the sauté bar and other dishes.
“If they were looking at substantial production,” Turley said, “I’d like to talk to them about what that might look like… it’d be nice to work on something like that down the road.”
Originally, Jon Andelson, professor of anthropology and director of the Center for Prairie Studies (CPS) thought the Dining Hall might purchase the vegetables. However, arrangements have been made for the vegetables to be given freely to the Dining Hall instead.
“We have entered into an agreement with Dining Services that they will take almost anything we want to bring them,” Andelson said. “I contacted the treasurer’s office and they said they really didn’t want us to sell the food to Dining … they are trying to reduce the amount of fund transfers on campus.”
Since then, Andelson has found this decision allows them to give some of the fresh produce to MICA, which is also a valuable endeavor.
Over the summer, three students were hired by Grinnell Area Local Foods Alliance (GALFA), also a facet of the CPS, which entailed working in the Grinnell College Garden this summer as well as working with local foods in Grinnell. Part of their work was to address food insecurity in Grinnell.
“The GALFA folks this summer … actually made a number of publications related to food insecurity and distributed a guide to food access in the Grinnell community,” said CPS board member Jane Jordan ’18.
One of the GALFA workers, Isabella Kugel ’20, was in charge of making permaculture and a four-year plan for the garden, as well as building the garden beds, shoveling wood chips and watering, among other shared tasks.
Along with GALFA workers, volunteers played a vital role in the formation of the garden this summer.
“In addition to all of the labor that’s been volunteered, a lot of the material things have been volunteered as well, and that I think is a really phenomenal part of the story,” Andelson said.
Besides volunteer involvement, supporters of the garden hope to see the community connect with the space in other ways.
“Getting anybody who’s interested and involved to be in the space is a really big aspect of the garden.” Kugel said. “If you haven’t actually seen it and been in the space, it doesn’t mean as much.”
“We invite people to come here just to hang out. It could be a place of meditation, it could be a place where somebody did homework in good weather,” Andelson said.
A central purpose of the Grinnell College Garden, as Andelson sees it, is “to help educate people on sustainable methods of food production. … So we want the Garden not only to provide sustenance but also to be a place where people can learn about gardening.”