New community garden at Penn State Schuylkill promotes sustainability

The community at Penn State Schuylkill created a garden this past summer with funding received in 2014 from the Penn State Sustainability Institute Reinvention Fund, the Vice President for Commonwealth Campuses, and the Campus Research and Scholarship Award from the Schuylkill Campus Advisory Board. The garden, part of the campus sustainability program Envision, Plan, Implement, Change, Sustain (EPICS), is available for campus and public use.

For Earth Day, an annual day held in April that hosts events worldwide to demonstrate support for environmental protection, the campus participated by holding a ribbon-cutting ceremony to commemorate the opening of the garden. Faculty, staff, students and special guest Porcupine Pat of the Schuylkill Conservation District were in attendance for this momentous occasion.

The garden has many benefits that will enable it to become an important part of the campus and local community. The plots are offered to the public for any individual, at no charge, which provides campus outreach and community engagement. Faculty, staff and students are also offered plots for their use. All plots must be maintained using organic methods, without chemical herbicides or pesticides. Biology courses have used the garden for laboratory classes, and there are additional plans in progress to incorporate the garden into campus life.

One goal that is currently in development is for Nicole Andel, assistant professor of English, and Harold Aurand, assistant professor of history, to utilize the garden as part of their upcoming summer 2016 landscape architecture course. The class will focus on how the land use and architecture of Penn State Schuylkill has changed and developed over time. Students will research and learn about gardening zones and which specific plants will help pollinators. Then they will begin writing grant proposals, as well as develop marketing and workshop ideas. "This garden has inspired us to look more deeply into the history of landscape architecture on our campus, and then incorporate that into the academic offerings through the introductory course, 'History of Design on the Land,'" said Andel.

Also currently in the planning stage is a Master Gardener Juniors Program. The program, which will be arranged through continuing education programming and be a part of Kid's College 2016, will allow children in the community to visit and learn how to garden. Other outreach programming for students and the local community will include topics such as food preservation and home gardening.

A current student, Duncan Noble, was hired as a garden manager to help organize the plots, care for the garden, and help plan community and student programming events. Students Mitchell Hornberger, Marissa Rios and Alyssa Sawyers, who were enrolled in the Pathways to Success: Summer Start program (PaSSS), also worked in the garden during the summer.

Penn State Schuylkill faculty, staff and students are in the process of designing a pollinator garden that will be an important aspect of the program. It will provide a space to attract insect and bird pollinators to the area, while serving as a source of educational information for the campus and the community. They are working with members of Penn State Extension's Master Gardener program to develop the space as a certified pollinator friendly garden.

Darcy Medica, interim director of Academic Affairs, is excited about the many benefits of the community project. "This garden is a step toward becoming a living laboratory for sustainability, to continue strengthening ties between the campus and the local community, and to assist in providing learning opportunities for students entering the newly offered biology baccalaureate degree program," Medica said.

The purpose of the Reinvention Fund is to provide resources to innovative teams seeking to pursue interdisciplinary and holistic solutions to sustainability challenges in a way that fosters cross-functional integration of Penn State's teaching, research, outreach, operation and administration expertise, so that the University community can link and leverage its depth of resources and build their collective capacity in pursuit of sustainability.