Fairfield University is undertaking a different kind of cultivation.
The Jesuit-run school, which has been cultivating minds in the fields of academia for nearly seven decades, recently began nurturing its first vegetable and herb garden on campus.
An educational project for environmental studies and biology students, the produce harvested from the garden will be used in dining hall menus this fall as well as stock the shelves of area food pantries this summer.
Faculty, students, staff and alumni are tending the garden, which is on a hill near the Dolan School of Business. It has 18 raised beds where root vegetables, perennial herbs, hot and sweet peppers, cherry tomatoes, and pumpkins, among other vegetables, are being planted.
"This garden is not only a project in sustainability, but in education," said Dana August, '11, co-director of projects for Leaders of Environmental Awareness at Fairfield, a student group.
"It is amazing to see how the sustainability movement on campus has infinitely increased since I started at Fairfield three years ago," said the San Diego native, who initiated the project. "I am so glad that I am a part of something that will continue to be a part of the university community for years to come."
Part of the garden has been dedicated to Harvest Now, a hunger relief program that supplies area food pantries.
Most of the food will be served in the university dining hall when students are back in the fall.
"We're focusing on things we can harvest in the fall, such as winter squash," said Jennifer L. Klug, an associate professor of biology. "On Thursday nights, we plan to have `Garden Night' when food that is grown in the garden is featured on the menu. Obviously, we can't supply the food for the entire menu but we can supply some items like butternut squash to make soup."
Faculty also plan to use the garden to inform students about seasonal foods; illustrate the environmental impracticality of eating certain things in winter, and introduce them to new food choices, such as kale. "Although it may not be a more popular leafy green, it is something that grows very well all year -- and I hear it is especially tasty after the first frost," August said.
James Fitzpatrick, assistant vice president of student affairs, said that Klug and Tod Osier, an associate professor of biology, in establishing the garden helped to create what can be considered a new lab outside the Bannow Science Center. "The beauty of the campus garden is that it is a prime example of living and learning outside the classroom." he said.
While he banged nails to make the garden beds, Osier said he plans to utilize the garden as a tool for students to study the management of soil, nutrients and weeds. "We have a number of practical questions related to managing the garden that need answers," said Osier, who has a Ph.D. in entomology from the University of Wisconsin, which has a lot of applications for growing crops. "Student researchers under my direction can do studies and gain valuable experience in the course of those activities."
Another goal is to have residents of the new Environmental Living and Learning community care for the garden. Sophomores interested in environmental issues will live in the community, based in a nearby dorm.
"We would like students to learn how to grow their own food and realize the pleasure that comes from gardening," said Klug, who said the Fairfield U. administration has supportive of the garden project. "We also want to make people aware of where their food is coming from, a very important subject these days."
The university's buildings and grounds staff helped to prepare and supply materials to the site. Ring's End Lumber donated wood for the garden beds.
"It is incredibly exciting that this project that we started working on in fall of last year has actually become a reality, mostly thanks to the excellent connection between interested students, faculty and administrators," August said.