Students, Chartwells go organic with campus garden

By Isabella Bravo, Staff Writer

With baskets of leafy green vegetables and dozens of tomatoes nearby and a 20-by-40-foot garden, Alex Parvaz, a graduate student in environmental studies and volunteer with the Campus Organic Gardens, said, “We take food very seriously.”

The Campus Organic Gardens donates the harvests to local food pantries. This year, volunteers have started selling excess produce at the campus farmers market and gained an important customer, Parvaz said8212;Chartwells.

Eleven years ago Fred Montague, a biology professor, started an organic gardening class at the U. The garden beds surround the Sill Center east of the Union. He and his students grow nutritious foods and a lot of flowers.

“It’s the basic things that people grow in their garden,” Montague said about the beans, squash, corn, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and herbs.

The gardens also produce vegetables that promote healthy eating with some unusual, but vitamin-dense, leafy green vegetables, such as chard, collard and kale, Parvaz said. These tend to be the vegetables Chartwells buys.

“Fill it up,” said Reggie Conerly, the resident district manager for Chartwells, as he handed a cardboard box to the garden’s volunteers at the farmers market on Thursday. Conerly cleaned out the booth for $50 and left with a box full of tomatoes and two bags of kale, chard and parsley.

A volunteer asked Conerly if Chartwells actually uses the produce in the campus cafeteria food. Conerly said it’s in the soup.

Localizing agriculture and tightening the distance between where people grow food and where people eat that food is exactly the change that Montague wants to see in his garden classes.

A wilderness research professor choosing to garden might seem odd, but Montague said gardening is crucial to wildlife preservation and environmental sustainability.

“We need to do a better job of providing for ourselves (in places) we already occupy, like cities, towns and campuses, so we don’t have to till up every last stretch of wilderness,” he said.

Students and volunteers learn how to grow healthy food without pesticides, insecticides, artificial fertilizers and electric machinery.

“People think that whole and organic food is some recent yuppy craze, but humans have evolved with whole organic food for thousands of years,” Montague said. “You can’t grow all of your own food, but you can grow something, and anything helps. Growing your own food helps to reduce the environmental impact of industrial food.”

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Erik Daenitz

RV Andrew Vidanes waters the plants at the organic garden outside of the Sill Center. Students sell the vegetables they grow in the garden at the Farmer’s Market and to Chartwells.