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Garden House brings locally grown produce to Lowry

Tristan Lopus
Senior Features Writer

Have you ever eaten a tomato in Lowry that tasted just a little bit fresher than the others? As though it been picked earlier that day from somewhere just down the road? It may very well have been. Tomatoes are one of several vegetables that the garden program house (Garden House) has already begun delivering to the Lowry Dining Hall in only the first semester of its program.

The story of the Garden House’s conception last spring has a delightful bit of coincidence to it. Returning from the annual Power Shift environmental summit in Pittsburgh with a freshly sparked interest in local and community agriculture, then-first-years Annette Hilton ’17, Sylvia Krebs ’17 and Claire Ilersich ’17 were intrigued by the idea of starting a program house to bring student gardening to campus.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the enterprising students, Dean Christie Bing-Kracker of Residence Life was dismayed by the neglect of the Cow Patch garden on campus, which had lain fallow for the past several years, and was actively brainstorming ideas for amassing an organization of students dedicated to the garden. Needless to say, when the students approached Dean Kracker with their idea, very little convincing was required.

By March, the founding students and Dean Kracker had devised a complete plan for the launching of the Garden House in fall 2014. Word of the new program house quickly spread, and Hilton, Krebs and Ilersich soon had five excited housemates to fill Johnson House: Ryn Osbourne ’15, Luke Tonat ’15, Haley Austin ’16, Anna Kruse ’16 and Chip Williams ’17. Their majors vary from archaeology to studio art to political science, but they all share common interests in environmental issues, sustainability and food justice. As Hilton puts it, “we all agree that food is important to us.”

This year’s unfortunately long winter compounded with the effect of the Cow Patch being short-staffed over the summer certainly left the students with their work cut out for them when they returned for their first semester in the Garden House. Regular weeding, trimming and harvesting are just a few of the tasks that comprise the maintenance of the garden. Program house requirements dictate that each person dedicates two hours a week to working in the garden, but Hilton, who is the house coordinator, estimates that the gardeners are often out there even longer than that.

Their work certainly pays off, as they have already begun to literally reap what they sowed. They have been making regular produce deliveries to Lowry throughout the semester. This semester’s crops include tomatoes, peppers, squash, zucchini, kale and lavender, among others.

Unfortunately, because service in Lowry demands such large quantities, few of the deliveries have actually been served in the dining hall. Instead, they have been offered to the Lowry employees, to other faculty members and to smaller communities on campus. Hilton says that, while they are happy simply to see their produce being served to campus community members, she and her housemates are working intently on plans for increased output in next year’s harvest. By focusing on quantity of a few crops over the diversity of many, she hopes that more of next year’s deliveries will make it into the mouths of her fellow Lowry-going students.

In addition to increasing quantity, the Garden House is also working diligently on plans to expand the reach of its program and develop an even larger gardening community at the College. They are brainstorming ideas for Garden House events open to the community, perhaps canning produce for the winter or planting seeds in the spring. Furthermore, Hilton says the Garden House is poised to expand, perhaps even as soon as next year, into a much larger gardening club, open to all students and offering regular opportunities to work in the garden.

It is clear that, despite its successful inaugural year, the Garden House and its ambitious students are hard at work envisioning and pursuing an even greater future. For any students interested in agriculture, sustainability, food justice or simply food, the Garden House is certainly a program to watch in the coming semesters. Nay, all students have a deeply vested interest in the Garden House, because nothing enlivens a typical Lowry meal like freshly picked, locally grown produce.

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