By Rachel Miles
2015 marks an exciting year in the environmental community within Roanoke College. In addition to the revival of the Gardening Club as well as increased focus in other environmental groups, the new Roanoke College Garden is being established and will be functioning by the end of this semester.
The college’s garden has had a long and difficult history, facing roadblocks and hazards regularly. The latest major setback was when the previous garden, located on Elizabeth campus, was affected by the disposal of the Bowman dormitory’s remains. The former campus organization, Pruning Maroons, had been maintaining the garden for years, most recently under the leadership of Haley Toresdahl. Despite their frustration and dedication, after the damage, the garden on Elizabeth campus was unable to be revived.
After this disheartening setback, the Roanoke Garden seemed as though its days were over. However, sophomore Mackay Pierce envisioned a new start and the powerful impact a garden could have on the Roanoke society. Through this vision, a new Gardening Club has sprouted on the campus in connection to the former Pruning Maroons, and plans for a college garden have been set into motion.
Pierce has been involved with the Office of Civic Engagement, an organization run by Jesse Griffin which connects students to local nonprofits, since his freshman year. With this connection, Pierce began working with the Roanoke Community Garden project in downtown Roanoke. This nonprofit places community gardens in ‘food deserts’- impoverished areas without access to healthy food options. His association with the garden project, as well as his and other students’ frustration with the sudden destruction of the previous garden, led people to begin setting up a new garden.
There was no handbook or guidelines for a project like this, said Pierce, and the venture started from scratch. Griffin and former president of Pruning Maroons, Haley Toresdahl, met with Pierce extensively, and the project was brought to Dean Fetrow who had experience with campus gardens from his previous time at Gillford College. The Head of Building and Grounds was soon included in the conversation, and the pieces, said Pierce, began falling into place.
The chosen location is at the corner of Hawthorne and High Street. It is a hillside lot roughly seventy by one hundred feet. While it is not directly on campus, the size offers opportunities which may not be available elsewhere, and the site remains close and visible to those involved with the college.
There are still many threats and much work ahead for the young garden in order for it to be functional by the end of the semester. Finances and manpower are always necessary for projects such as these, but the vision and the dedication of those committed to the garden refuse to let these become fatal hindrances. By the end of the semester, the garden is expected to be fenced off with raised beds within it. These lots will be available to faculty and staff during the summer, allowing them to try their hand at gardening in the space. Planting will also begin shortly.
The produce has endless potential for where it can go and what it can do. The gardening club has envisioned donations to local food pantries as well as possible integration into our own dining systems. They have also begun partnering with other organizations on campus such as the Beekeeping Society who will have a beehive placed in the garden lot also by the end of the semester. There have also been discussions with the chaplain who may be interested in growing grapes for communion wine in the garden. Overall, the garden is a community project, and the goal is for the space to reflect this with its collaboration of environmentally friendly additions and partnerships with students, staff, faculty, and other groups on campus.
If anyone is interested in joining in this project in this crucial time of its development, the gardening club meets every Thursday in Lucas Hall at 7:30 p.m.