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Behrend Community Garden grows and grows in its third season


Carlie Bright, Lifestyles Editor

While the Student Garden at Penn State Behrend is entering its third year, efforts are still under way to further engage students and faculty.

Started in 2016 by members of Greener Behrend, the garden has expanded greatly since its introduction to the Behrend community. From seemingly nothing, eager students and faculty began with the basics and created a wholesome garden for the campus to utilize. Today, the initiative is considerably larger than it has been in previous years.

Perhaps the biggest advance was the introduction of two driving positions within the past year– Katie Chriest as the Sustainable Food Systems Program Coordinator for Commonwealth Campuses and Sam Mason as the Sustainability Coordinator. Working together and alongside others, they strive to serve the Behrend and surrounding community with fresh produce, educational opportunities, and extracurricular engagement opportunities.

One main goal of Chriest’s position is to engage students and faculty as a whole. “I want them to realize that they really are the driving force in a lot of the things that I’ve heard they want at Behrend,” she states. “I’ve talked to students and they seem very excited about better food choices and making sustainable choices and understand that food is a way that they can affect that.”

The garden has been a constantly growing initiative, since implemented several years ago. Thanks to a grant that was awarded to the garden, a space that was once dedicated to growing food for a local food pantry turned into much more. The focus now turns to a different market, in which the Behrend community sits at the center. Currently, the hope is to create an on-campus market model where certain crops will be available each week and people can come if they are interested in those specific crops. Further, community partnerships in the Erie area have also grown and expanded as a result of this grant.

“That’s a lot of what the beauty has been with the possibilities that a grant affords us because we have room to dream,” Chriest explains.

For those working to further the efforts of the garden, this season is all about strategy. Planning to achieve healthy growth, as sustainably as possible, is crucial for the team. Right now, Chriest is working alongside colleagues and interns to connect with Housing and Food Services to grow specific crops that will be used in the dining services on campus. But with this change comes a big step.

In order to facilitate this sort of partnership, plans are being made to expand the garden. This will include a move of the space to an area that will potentially be more visible and accessible to classes and members of the Behrend community who will feel more welcome to use it in any way that they see fit.

These intentions can be set out by each individual person, no matter what they hope to achieve in their time with the garden. For Celeste Makay, a junior environmental science major, her time meant nothing but benefits and growth both personally and as part of a team. She joined the garden efforts two years ago, as it was starting from the roots.

Although this first season involved a lot of the basics of gardening, she was given the opportunity to assist as the expansion began in her second year as part of the garden team. She took part in companion planting, starting a composting project, beginning the garden’s very own Campus Supported Agriculture program, and developing a Facebook page to become more in-touch with the community.

“Being involved with the Student Garden, or any garden at that, has more benefits than I could even put on paper,” Makay shares. “To start, this experience builds on your teamwork, communication, and problem-solving skills. It also gives you a true sense of what being in a community really means.”

She goes on to say that not only are you learning for yourself, but you also get the chance to share that knowledge with others from all walks of life. She suggests that there is enormous environmental, societal, and economic value in knowing how to grow food locally.“I suggest that any student interested in getting involved doesn’t hesitate,” Makay says. “Get involved, it is most definitely worth your time.”

Chriest builds off of this by encouraging anyone, no matter their major or interest, to come aboard the garden initiative. “[The vision aims] to offer students these really engaged learning opportunities that will give them a major head start as they’re heading out into the working world,” she explains. “It’s pretty big.”

With efforts of innovation and partnership, the vision is to serve as a model for not only other Penn State campuses, but also for the Erie community at large. But none of this is possible without the help of the Behrend community as one. Interested students and faculty are encouraged to reach out to Chriest at kmc503@psu.edu.