As part of their college internship, four Albright College students are combining efforts to perfect their green thumb by growing fresh food directly on campus.
The garden is located behind the college’s Experiential Learning and Career Development Center, where the lush greenery thrives during the summer months. The plot of land has been used as a permaculture garden for the past three years that in turn provides a full circle learning experience for the students.
“We’re almost creating the project new each year,” sophomore Ellen Underwood, majoring in Environmental Science and Spanish, said while touring the garden. “We create our own soil on top of [the previous year’s soil and] add to that to plant different things.”
A main principle to the permaculture way of farming is to not till the soil to promote nutrients. The traditional tilling process exposes the soil to nitrogen in which leads to negative long-term effects for growing.
“It doesn’t take too much. We do spend a lot of time out here but it doesn’t even feel like work,” Underwood said.
Grown with no chemical pesticides eggplant, cucumbers, tomatoes, purple beans, raspberries and blackberries are some of the fresh varieties the students produce and sell on campus. The interns offer these fruits of their labor to the campus community and near-by neighbors with a stand on a weekly basis.
“People are curious when they walk by. They ask what we’re doing” and show interest in the garden, senior Tess Adgie said. Adgie is a senior majoring in Biology at Albright College. “We have had a great response from the local community.”
The students are glad to see repeat customers, mostly made up of Albright faculty members and neighbors walking their dogs on campus.
Through the garden, the students hope to reach out to the community to spread sustainability to their peers.
“All of us love and enjoy the garden,” Adgie said. “It’s moved beyond the internship...it’s a lifestyle. You feel like you have a positive impact.”
In line with their efforts to promote a sustainable lifestyle, almost half of the space dedicated to gardening is set aside for community plots. The space is offered on a first-come-first-serve basis as a free resource. The interns donate the extra produce to the Healthy Kids Program through Opportunity Housing in Reading. First hand experience with the garden promotes a life long habit in the students and promotes a sustainable life to those who enjoy the food.
“Ever since starting this garden, I want to do it personally,” senior Brian Nguyen, majoring in Biology, said. “It’s amazing what you can do.” As part of her studies, Adgie concentrates on comparing traditional farming to permaculture versus aquaponics. “We see which grows faster and is more nutritious.” Within the classroom Adgie has access to direct aquaponic farming, growing mostly basil, tomatoes and herbs, with a water base instead of soil base.
In May, under the direction of Dr. Brian M. Jennings, Environmental Sociology professor at Albright, the students built an herb spiral as a team building exercise early on in the season. Upon a base of rocks the students used bricks to create a spiral garden where herbs can thrive. The base of the spiral is ideal for herbs that need a cooler climate. On the higher layer herbs that need direct sunlight and a drier atmosphere are planted. Marigolds are also grown in the herb spiral as a means to attract beneficial insects to fight off pests.
Herbs like rosemary, thyme, oregano, parsley, and lavender are among some of the plants grown by the students.
In addition to four rain barrels used for collection rain water, a rain garden was also built on the land which is designed to keep the water table saturated through a physical depression in the soil.
In the cooler months, students plan to grow foods like kale, garlic, pumpkins and bok choy -- all of which grow and taste better in brisk weather.
“Living with the concept [of sustainability] is totally viable and easy,” Adgie said. “This is a good example of getting out of your comfort zone. “
For Underwood, her drive derives from the “ability to expose young people to their food source,” promoting the importance of understanding the growing process to students and the community..
Learning to nurture a garden is a life-long skill that these students hope to pass along.
Sophomore Alyssa Miller, majoring in Environmental Studies, is also completing her internship working with the garden.
To follow the interns visit their blog at albrightcollege.wordpress.com.