A community garden on the campus of Wheeling Jesuit University (WJU) is proving to be educational and bountiful - with its fruits and vegetables feeding students and employees on campus this summer.
Born out of a request from students, employees and the campus food service company, Parkhurst, the community garden has become a hot bed of activity since the spring - educating the many volunteers about growing and maintaining a garden, as well as teaching those involved the importance of preserving the Earth.
According to Elizabeth Collins, director of the Appalachian Institute at Wheeling Jesuit, the idea of the garden came from students in the fall of 2012. The students, she explained, organized the Student Sustainability Board and came up with a list of ideas to make the campus more environmentally responsible.
“The campus garden idea really took off because of the interest of Parkhurst's General Manager Courtney Blood and Executive Chef Jackie Crider Harris. The campus gardener, Gary Pastor, became intrigued because of his long history with farming. Once these key people were on board, a plan was put into place to buy materials, build the garden, begin harvesting organic produce and use the garden for educational activities for the Wheeling Jesuit campus and beyond,” Collins said.
The management of Parkhurst Dining said they jumped on board when approached by Collins. “We think it's a great way to further our partnership with the University and support some of the Appalachian Institute's endeavors. We also love being able to promote the produce in our dining program,” said Blood.
The food service team has been buying the produce from the garden as it ripens and is promoting any of the vegetables grown in the garden with “HomeGrown” signage on its menu.
Blood added that Parkhurst has a FarmSource program, where it strives to purchase at least 20 percent of its food from local farms and cooperatives when local products are in season.
“Our guests then get to enjoy fresh, wholesome foods, while we do our part to support and strengthen the local agricultural community - in this case, the Appalachian Institute. What is more local than something grown here on-campus? Quite often, the produce is used the same day it is harvested,” Blood said.
A donation by the Congregation of St. Joseph provided the financial support to launch the project. Part of the funding will be used to host sustainability workshops for the public, Collins said.
Throughout the spring semester, Collins said they utilized more than 60 volunteers during a four-day period to help build the initial the fencing, build the plant beds and plant the seeds.
With the help of Pastor, the students and employees are learning about what is needed to maintain and care for the garden - specifically how to plant a garden, how often to water and fertilize the plants and when the produce is ready to be picked.
This summer, volunteers have been harvesting green beans, squash, cabbage, lettuce, peppers and basil. And, soon they hope to be gathering tomatoes and corn, which have been slow to ripen due to the damp summer, Pastor said.
While the fruits and vegetables are making their way to the Parkhurst kitchen on the WJU campus, Collins said she hopes that in the near future some of the items harvested can be donated to local charities.
She said the garden is a visible step in the Appalachian Institute's commitment to build a sustainable campus. The Institute is looking to refine its recycling efforts and begin looking at energy use and food waste.
“While the importance of locally grown, organic food is central to the creation of the garden, more importantly, we see this project as a visual way of bonding the campus to the responsibility of becoming more sustainable,” Collins said. “Because Wheeling Jesuit is the only Catholic college within West Virginia, and one of only two Jesuit universities within the Appalachian region, it's our duty as an educational institution to be a driving force behind forming environmentally concerned students and designing programs that sustain the Earth, not destroy it.”