The idea came from 2,000 miles away in San Francisco and has inspired innovative and exciting new landscape projects on the UMD campus this summer. Three large "Edible Landscape" gardening operations broke ground in May and are now beginning to take root and grow. "The Edible Landscape is meant to educate students and staff, as well as the community, about different food systems and healthy eating. It also teaches them about sustainability and anthropology," said Candice Richards, associate director of Custodial and Ground Services for the UMD Facilities Management Department.
The Slow Food Nation Victory Garden located in front of the San Francisco City Hall motivated UMD's creation of the raised straw-bale Edible Landscape gardens located over the UMD Life Science building. The large rectangle plots, outlined in burlap-covered straw-bales, house a variety of vegetables including eggplant, beans, and onions.
"We heard about this and decided to try the same thing here on campus," said Steve Schilling, executive assistant of UMD Facilities Management. "There was a lot of interest from various groups--so the only question was where to put the raised beds."
The Life Science Building garden not only focuses on sustainability and healthy eating, but also serves as a way to help control the temperature of the rooms that lie below the concrete surface.
"It will be really interesting to see if it works and really cools the site off," UMD landscape supervisor Peggy Dahlberg said. "We will keep careful records, and hopefully it will lead to the removal of the concrete slab and to making a completely "green" roof."
A "Salsa Garden" and a "Three Sisters Garden" are the other two large garden additions that have been planted and maintained at UMD this summer. The "Salsa Garden" hosts tomatoes, onions, and peppers as well as other ingredients used to make (of course) salsa. The "Three Sisters Garden" contains corn, squash, and beans. According to Richards, the squash shades the corn roots, while the beans crawl up the corn stalk. Each plant also uses different nutrients so the soil is used to the fullest.
Since the beginning stages of the project there has been a lot of volunteer interest from students, faculty and staff, campus organizations (such as Students For Sustainable Agriculture- SFSA), and also people in the community.
"Right now we use the volunteers for the weekends, and they help out by maintaining the gardens, such as watering and weeding them when needed," volunteer coordinator Brian Bluhm said. "We will definitely be more busy in the fall because of the harvest, and that is when we will need the most help."
Plans are now being discussed as to what to do with all the vegetables at harvest time.
"Many of the foods will be incorporated into cooking workshops for students, stressing the importance of fruits and vegetables in the diet, taste testing with different varieties of fresh, locally grown produce, and easy steps to preparing or cooking the produce, even in the dorm room," said Dori Decker, community program specialist with UMD Health Services.
The total cost of the project was approximately $5,000 with most of the money coming from the Campus Beautification Fund. Alakef Coffee Roasters, located in downtown Duluth, donated the burlap sacks.
"This is just the first year so we are kind of making it up as we go," Richards said. "But we are having fun doing it."