By Justin Much
Mix the right combination of factors to create the right chemistry, and success is nearly assured. That concept often is applied to sports, but can it be applicable to other areas, such as organic gardening?
Western Oregon University professor of communications Emily Plec could make a good argument for that concept.
Plec has been the main faculty member overseeing the school’s foundational “Campus Garden” project, a flourishing 100-by-50-foot organic plot north of the Hamersly Library.
Ideas and possibilities surrounding this piece of land seem to grow with about the same frequency as accompanying weeds, which are never scarce when undertaking a spray-free endeavor.
The idea of a campus garden at the midsize, nonagricultural university emerged, then grew during the past school year, sprouting into its first summer harvest earlier this month, and on through an expected second harvest in the coming days.
Plec primarily tips her hat to one student.”Karisa Mueller took the initiative and started the project,” Plec said of her former environmental communication class student. “She was the one who started it, and she and some other students did the lion’s share of maintaining it this summer.”
Mueller married and departed on her honeymoon shortly after the first harvest. But the groundwork is moving forward.
Plec has harbored a vision of a campus garden for years, one that could provide projects in various disciplines, a food pantry with healthy organic options for students and staff, and a source of quiet, bucolic campus pride. But she also held a realistic understanding of the work entailed.
With the help of some energetic students, a few donations and her tentative vision as a playbook, the garden went from scratch to bounty in the space of months.”We partnered with our staff union and did a food pantry table last week, which distributed something like 10 heads of cauliflower, 6 or 7 cabbages, and box-loads of squash and lettuce to needy staff and students on campus,” Plec said, discussing the first early August harvest. “We plan to have another harvest event toward the end of August when the eggplants come in and the tomatoes ripen.”The WOU food pantry offers a bag of vegetables to people on campus who could use a boost in the food budget.Healthy food is one product. Byproducts could include college projects that develop in association with the garden — something Plec also would like to see grow.
Communications student Jeannette Freeman, for example, did some extensive research on organic gardening and then created an informative brochure available at the garden site, funded by the dean of arts and sciences. Casey Olson, who, like Mueller, is a member of the Green Wolf Sustainability Club, also became an integral part of the day-to-day tending and helped elicit support from others with green values.
Other envisioned crossovers in the project include using the garden as an aid for teacher and science-education students, design projects for creative arts students, insect and comparative plant studies and soil treatments through the biology department.
“Right now we are discussing type of winter cover crop — maybe red clover or something like that to keep in the nutrients,” Plec said.
In addition, they hope to keep the enthusiasm once pioneers such as Mueller graduate, as she’s scheduled to this fall.
Although the school is amid its first harvest, the process still is growing. But the initial chemistry has been realized.
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