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Lafayette Students Learn More Than How to Grow Food

College's organic community garden growing a community

"This garden is 2 acres," said Jennifer Bell, a recent graduate and employee of Lafayette College. "There are 43 plots for community gardening and the rest is where students grow healthy produce without pesticides or fertilizers."

The plot is the Lafayette College Organic Garden on Sullivan Trail just south of Metzger Field Athletic Complex. Bell, who studied geology and environmental geosciences at the college, has worked in the garden since 2008 while attending school. 

"People are free to plant what they like," she said. What they like includes tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, Swiss chard, carrots, onions, cabbage, beans and peas and more. Here and there some of the gardeners are growing corn, strawberries, sunflowers, cantaloupes, nasturtiums, herbs and other food plants.

Weeding is the responsibility of each plot owner. Some have installed sheets of black plastic to help with this backbreaking chore. To help control insects, marigolds are everywhere.

"The gentle slope faces south," Bell noted. "And it is downhill from the maintenance building where we get the water we need."

Rainwater is collected from the roof to feed the garden's watering system. Since the garden is downhill from the building, gravity feeds the water into the hoses running along the upper fence. Gardeners tap into the system and water their plots as needed.

Lafayette owns the land here, as well as the surrounding acreage. But funds were needed for the watering system, a small building for implements, fencing and the compost bins.

"We compost food waste from the college's dining halls," Bell explained. "And food grown here is furnished back to them." Extra food is donated to the homeless shelter Safe Harbor in Easton.

Earlier this year, their efforts caught the attention of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Lafayette team received a $10,000 grant to help fund the project. An additional $5,000 was received from the Clinton Global Initiative University. The team also received a $41,000 state grant.

Ronnie DelBacco June 28, 2011 at 12:06 PM
So, how is the 56K being spent? It's nice to see such a productive project which also provides some relief to local charities but I wonder why our state taxes are being given out in such huge grants to colleges like Lafayette which has over a $7oo million endowment. A rain water collection system and a storage building can't possibly cost that much. Since the responsibility for weeding falls on each plot owner, as it should, there should be no employee costs for gardeners. This must be the most well funded garden in all of PA.
Jenn Bell July 03, 2011 at 05:54 PM
Hi Ronnie, my name is Jenn and I work at the garden. I just wanted to let you know that the only funds that completely went to the garden in the grants mentioned before were the 5k from the Clinton foundation. That award paid for the rainwater collection, fence, and shed. The 10k from the EPA funded our "sustainable food loop" project, for which the garden is a part and therefore a small amount of those funds were used at the garden for some supplies (weedwacker, tools, ect). The 41K funded our composting project and was not used at the garden. Besides initial set up costs, the garden is generally sustainable because we sell the community plots for a small fee and the food on campus. For more information, see this article on the Lafayette website about the sustainable food loop: http://www.lafayette.edu/about/news/2009/12/09/students-work-toward-a-college-wide-sustainable-food-loop/
Carrie Havranek July 12, 2011 at 05:40 PM
I have a plot there, and there's no "employees" per se but something this article failed to explain is the fact that it's basically a giant educational opportunity for students. There are students out there every single day in the student plot, from May through the fall. They're studying pests like squash borers and working on green design initiatives for future phases of the garden, and getting the compost tested to make sure it's not contaminated. I can't comment directly on where all the money is going, but this is more than just a garden that gets state funding; your comment is a bit of dismissive, but it's not necessarily your fault that you came to that conclusion.
Takesha Thomas July 12, 2011 at 08:01 PM
Good point Carrie. I would love to hear on a regular basis about the happenings at the garden and invite you to become a blogger on Palmer-Forks Patch. Shoot me over an email if you're interested.

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