An experimental campus garden is the last in a series of seven new academic initiatives recently announced by Monmouth College. It figures to be the initiative that keeps on giving, both in terms of its produce and in terms of the educational opportunities it creates.
Designed by faculty member Craig Watson and his senior capstone course students, the half-acre plot is located near the college’s Founders Village apartments and will be developed by a group of faculty and students from several academic disciplines, including biology, chemistry, environmental studies, integrated studies, education and English. Ultimately, said Watson, the college hopes to add a multi-acre mini-farm.
Funding for the project will eventually provide a walk-behind tiller tractor, extensive fencing, benches, drip irrigation equipment, basic high tunnels and hooped cold frames, materials for composting bins, industrial wheelbarrows, hoes and hand tools, and lumber for raised beds and garden frames. The college will irrigate the plot using rain barrels, a large water tank and a solar pump for gravity-fed, trickle-type watering.
The first year’s intensive labor to establish the garden will be provided by students and faculty in senior capstone courses that focus upon civic engagement and environmental action.
The mission of the project is to provide an educational, experimental garden with an emphasis on sustainable agricultural practices and comparative methods. While creating a distinctive location for interdisciplinary courses and collaborative research, the garden will offer fresh organic produce for the campus and community.
Watson said that short-term goals include completing the necessary soil preparation, equipment acquisition and construction of the irrigation and composting systems. The garden will also be implemented into the current curriculum by inviting faculty to use it as an open-air classroom and research station, and to incorporate associated subjects into their syllabi.
Goals that will take longer to achieve include establishing an alumni program in association with the garden, making connections with local school programs and creating new courses and thematic concentrations centered on the garden. “MC Home-Grown” produce will find its way initially to the Jamieson Community Center and the college cafeteria.
In addition to the items that will be planted, which include bell peppers, lettuce, green beans, pumpkins, squash, tomatoes and purple basil, the garden will include an educational area for children, a perennial asparagus patch and a beehive. Other academic opportunities will include creating and studying compost and studying the water on the property.
“So many different projects that could intersect with this,” said Watson, who listed among them various “town-gown” possibilities, such as community education, green education and teacher curriculum outreach. “In association with the campus garden, we hope to implement ‘Green and Growing: The Monmouth College Campus Garden Educational Outreach Program.’ We plan to create lesson plans and hold workshops for area teachers, parents and college faculty in the fall, and we’ll place informational kiosks and begin fieldtrips for area school children.”
Watson concluded, “The campus garden will be a nice segue into community and regional conversations about agricultural issues in the Midwest.”