Community garden harvests joy on campus

Photos Courtesy of Carla Richards | Dr. Brady Porter, Carla Richards and students are seen here harvesting all sorts of vegetables including peppers, acorn squash, zucchini, lettuce, radishes, green beans and more.

Isabella Abbott | Features Editor

Finding a garden can be difficult in a city full of skyscrapers and buildings galore. But, Duquesne’s campus is fortunate to have a relatively new garden producing pounds of fresh vegetables and beautifully grown gold-yellow sunflowers.

As students and faculty walk on A-Walk, they’re sure to find the bright green plant-filled garden between Canevin and Laval House.

But what they don’t know is that the produce will soon go to a new campus food pantry for those in need of freshly grown vegetables.

Summer garden intern Carla Richards said their summer garden harvests were successful.

“We’ve harvested a little under 70 pounds so far this summer,” Richards said. “The tomatoes are just starting to ramp up, but the beginning of the summer had a crazy amount of beans and greens.”

Other than tomatoes, the garden grows peppers, acorn squash, zucchini, collard greens, lettuce, radishes, okra, green beans, mustard greens and rainbow chard.

College students sometimes have trouble accessing these types of fresh fruits and vegetables.

According to an article from HealthAffairs, the crisis of food insecurity profoundly impacts college students whose issues are commonly under-recognized, under-examined, and under-addressed.

Knowing food insecurity is hard, especially for graduate students who don’t have campus meal plans, Richards said it’s important for students to have easy accessibility to those types of foods.

“I think having stuff like this helps end the stigma because you see that this is something that’s accessible for everybody,” Richards said. “There are no questions asked if somebody goes and picks a tomato, and I think also it allows something that’s really stigmatized to be acknowledged.”

Adjunct instructor in the Center for Environmental Research and Education, Mary Kate Ranii, said the garden will continue to grow on campus.

“We’d love to expand in the future and provide the produce to members of the campus community who are dealing with food insecurity,” Ranii said.

Richards also believes having the garden and pantry will allow students to spread the word to others who may be struggling to find these resources.

“It helps people that aren’t struggling with food insecurity to understand what it is and get involved to provide resources even if your friend is struggling,” Richards said. “I think it’s a good way to make connections.”

However, not only college students in Pittsburgh are struggling with food insecurity. According to the City of Pittsburgh, in 2019, approximately 63,000 residents were food insecure, meaning they were limited by social and economic conditions affecting access to adequate food,” Richards said.

One of the community garden’s goals is to help combat this issue. So, this summer, the garden worked with the Jubilee Soup Kitchen, a program in Pittsburgh open 365 days a year for breakfast, lunch and dinner, where the community garden donated its produce.

This past Saturday, they delivered 11 pounds to the kitchen.

The garden not only grows vegetables and plants, but allows for pollinators to be present on campus as well.

Another unknown and hidden campus garden adjacent to A-Walk near College Hall has even more pollinators for passersby to admire.

Dr. Brady Porter, associate professor and faculty advisor for the Ecology club, said these insects, including butterflies, surrounding the garden allow students and faculty to see “something they might not otherwise be able to see on campus.”

Porter also believes the garden is great for a campus near the city like Duquesne.

“I think a connection to green space is very important anywhere,” Porter said. “I think it’s kind of limited here, and it offers a place to go and kind of be surrounded by greenery. It also connects to the community through the donations of food.”

Through the garden’s successful produce harvest and pollination this summer, students achieved a sense of pride in their work. Porter said there will soon be courses where students can plant seeds and watch as their plants grow.

“Many of these students have never planted a seed, and hopefully they’ll get the chance to come back and see the fruits of their labor, so to speak,” Porter said.

The community garden is always looking for new volunteers to help harvest and water their plants. They’re hoping to gain more interest and form a community out of it and gain more interest.

“Even thinking about walking around campus when you see the sunflowers, people get excited,” Richards said. “Everybody stops, and even parents here for orientation, they’re all like ‘oh there’s a garden on campus that’s pretty cool.’”