Here is the second installment of Stuart Hean’s adventures in the student garden.
As of today, June 18th, I feel like I’m finally living up to Phil Drexler’s (2014) frequent assertion that I don’t have a real job. Since my last post, I have been working to fill all of the available space in the garden, with seedlings both purchased and home grown. The raised beds now boast a production capacity that I’m proud of. Watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, eggplant, tomatoes, herbs, peppers and strawberries constitute much of the new space, while cucumbers, squash (winter and summer), pumpkins, zucchini, garlic, okra, beans, onions, chard and kale are taking up most of the original beds.
I recently handed Claudia $600 in receipts from Home Depot and Orner’s Garden Center (unfortunately they have no official website), that have accumulated through the purchase of seedlings, trellis materials, straw, sprinklers and a new hose. I felt slightly sheepish when I told Claudia how much I have spent. When I say $600 without justification, I feel as though I went overboard. Gardening can be done with the money it takes to buy seeds, a good hoe and cultivator, and the utilities cost that accompanies all the water the plants need. However, when I look at the straw that carpets the new beds, keeping the quickly growing basil hydrated, and the twenty foot arcs of water spewing out of the garden’s three new sprinklers, I feel like I’ve put CER’s money in to a worthy investment.
But sometimes I think I take myself too seriously. There was a party on HCA green last weekend, which took place fairly close to the garden. I was happy that the garden was being used as a gathering space for the community that is forming here among HCA summer residents. I was sad to see in the morning however, that some party-goers had trod on the cucumbers and peed on the zucchini. I’ve received a lot of praise for my work so far, and it feels like the community appreciates the garden, but based on this experience, it makes me wonder if the people who don’t speak up in favor of the garden could care less about the well being of the space.
Despite the haters, the praise I have received for my work so far has fueled the generation of even loftier goals. Someone asked me yesterday what I think about during the more mundane tasks that go with garden stewardship. I answered that I think about how to make gardening more exciting, namely through expanding the space, and the impact that the space has on the community. Before I graduated high school, a family friend hosted a dinner for a group of college students and recent graduates who were working for,Pick Up America an organization whose members walk along America’s major roadways picking up trash. The organization’s campaign is impressive in the dramatic inefficiency of it’s mission. A few hundred Bohemians traipsing across the country can hardly hope to clean up the nation as quickly or as efficiently as state and federally funded prison laborers might be able to. But because these unreasonably idealistic young people believe in their purpose and do it for free, they are able to have a significant impact, not only because they actually do clear hundreds of tons of trash from roadways every year at no cost to taxpayers, but because they serve as examples of those who find value in creating, or contributing to movements that are not yet institutionalized, or re-forming institutional practices that do exist, but are perceived as flawed. In contrast to commercial farming, small-scale gardening is similar in this respect. It is not very efficient to spend a majority of my day working a plot to produce what will supplement the diets of close to one hundred students, who may easily ignore the free fresh produce because they can acquire the same fruits and vegetables at a local supermarket for a cost diminished by the convenience of the one stop shop phenomenon. But it feels like an important step in the direction of making Haverford a place where local agriculture is an important part of the institutional culture. I feel very fortunate to be working in an environment where the potential to affect institutional culture is salient.
It feels strange to that the bulk of my work in the garden is coming to an end while I still have six weeks left in the summer term. I want to keep up this momentum, I want this garden to be important to the Haverford community, and I want local agriculture to be part of Haverford’s institutional culture, but I’m not sure how this is possible. Part of me thinks that I should sneak in to facilities one night, hijack a tractor, and till up all of HCA green so that in the morning, our residents wake up to a small farm. Another part of me wants to make find a way to have HGI produce go directly to the Dining Center. The latter thought is more realistic, but the size of the garden is such that the former might need to happen before such a thing is possible. While I mentioned earlier in the post that I’m proud of what I’ve done so far, I see so much more room for improvement. The garden is at an interesting point in its capacity, where it can do more than garnish the plates of Haverford residents, but less than feed them.
That’s all for now, I’ll update soon with where I decide to focus my efforts. See more pictures of recent developments below.