Thursday, June 20, 2024

Garden flourishes on campus

By Sydney Hakes

The yellow petals became gold, the wind lightly bent the sunflower stalks and rustled a few more seeds to the ground. The sun was setting over the Plattsburgh Campus Garden, breathing life into it on the eve of a frosty fall.

The roaring screams from the practice at the neighboring rugby pitch don’t impede on the beauty of the garden. Even with wilting sunflowers and half empty beds, the garden is full of color and life.

The garden, and subsequent club, was created around 2008 by students who wanted to form a better understanding of food production. While the garden now focuses on flowers and produce, it began out of interest in food justice and security, growing mostly edible plants. 

It was admired by Belle Morley, a junior biomedical sciences student who was in the garden for the first time. She saw the club tabling at the involvement fair and was interested in learning more.

Gardening has always been personal for Morley. It was something she did with her father back home.

“My dad isn’t a man of many words, so being in the garden together was a way for us to bond,” Morley said. “I learned a lot, like how some plants don’t like wind, or what random plants I’m allergic to.”

She now grows indoor plants — specifically desert plants — but loves the opportunity to get outside in a real garden again.

For students stuck in small dorms or apartments, the garden is an oasis where they can grow their own food to take home. 

Providing fresh produce for students is only one benefit the garden provides the community, and has been for over a decade.

Lucas Haight, a Plattsburgh alumnus, joined the club in 2011 before graduating with an English degree in 2015. At the time, the garden was half the size it currently is, and was mostly raised beds that students who lived in town over the summer would utilize. 

He noticed the garden from his dorm in Wilson one day and decided to walk over and check it out. With no previous gardening experience, he “became obsessed” with it. 

After graduating, Haight got a job as a home gardener for individual clients and gardening at a resort in Lake Placid, along with volunteering in local gardens, but couldn’t help but notice a drop in involvement in the campus garden. He decided to come back to the garden he spent four years in, with new ideas of adding flowers and perennial plants.

Haight has an obvious passion for the garden, even explaining how a snow-covered and wilted garden in the winter months has a purpose to the ecosystem.

“While we dig up the beds before winter, I make sure to leave seed heads for the animals,” Haight said. “They have something to eat, and are being repurposed by nature.”

While students are welcome to take home whatever grows, the club also coordinates with local food banks to donate produce every week. They’re also known to set up stands at campus events to sell flower bouquets. In the past, the club attended conferences about food justice and security that Haight hopes they can get back to. 

Katie Guyer, a psychology major and transfer student from Brockport, is happy to just be working in a garden.

As a transfer student, she spent a lot of time looking at the list of clubs on the SUNY Plattsburgh website. None appealed to her, many being academic in nature and she didn’t want a club like that on top of classes. To her luck, a friend informed her of the campus garden. 

“It was right in my niche,” Guyer said. “I’ve gardened my entire life with my mom and really enjoy it. I’ll be coming back as often as I can.”

Besides weekly tending to the garden, and the greenhouse they use in the spring, mid-October brings garlic planting. Once the garlic comes up in the spring, half will be donated to local organizations. 

The garden has a lot of “potential,” a word used by Haight. With more student involvement, they can further their mission of raising awareness about where food comes from, how it grows and promote sustainability in the community

“All it takes is coming out,” Haight said. “There’s so many ways it’s rewarding, whether personal or for volunteer work. We can always use more helping hands.”

The club meets in the garden Mondays at 5 p.m., moving the meetings inside come winter. The garden can be found at the end of Towers Way behind Sibley Hall. Updates can be found on the Instagram page, @plattscampusgarden. 

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