Green-Thumbed Gaels Bringing Campus Garden to Life

By John Grennan
Photography by Gabrielle Diaz ’11 and Gorbachev Lingad ’10

Centered on a Chapel Lawn and framed by verdant Moraga hills, Saint Mary’s has long been considered a green campus. But with the College paying more and more attention to its relationship with the surrounding ecosystem, the “green campus” description increasingly applies for environmental as well as aesthetic reasons.

One of the best examples of this growing ecological consciousness is the new half-acre community garden students planted behind Claeys South. During orientation weekend in late August, more than 150 freshmen and the Gaels’ baseball and soccer teams braved 90-degree temperatures to sow the seeds of the campus’ own agricultural revolution. As the garden grows, students are developing a greater appreciation of where their food comes from and how much work goes into the process.

“We want the garden to be pesticide-free, herbicide-free and worked by hand as much as possible,” says Julie Welch, the College’s garden steward. “Local and sustainable agriculture is the goal. I hope every student has an opportunity to participate.”

Many have already answered the call. Over the course of the fall, volunteers spent more than 1,000 hours tilling 65 tons of soil and constructing an eight-foot-tall fence to keep deer and turkeys from rummaging for midnight snacks.

“It is a wonderful thing, to be able to help something grow,” says senior Laura Gibble, one of six students on the Garden Committee that makes sure plants are watered and thriving. “I believe in the importance of working with the environment around us, helping future generations and contributing to the community as a whole.”

Garden organizers have reduced the project’s carbon footprint by using donated and recycled materials whenever possible. College staff and outside donors, including the Girl Scouts and the Moraga Garden Center, have pitched in with seeds, hay and manure. The garden’s green credentials even extend down to the wooden plant beds, which were made out of old Madigan Gym bleachers.

In late October, students began enjoying the fruits of their labor by harvesting an array of crops including spinach, lettuce and collards. Matt Carroll, general manager of Sodexo Dining Services on campus, says the Oliver Hall cafeteria will be a regular garden customer.

“We will use most if not all the produce from the campus garden,” Carroll says.

In addition to serving as a source of food and community spirit, the garden provides an opportunity for students to learn more about their surroundings, according to liberal arts dean Steve Woolpert, one of the project’s primary architects.

“The garden fosters local knowledge, a sense of place and an affinity for the natural world,” Woolpert says.