MHC Student Garden Project

* The MHC Student Garden Program is currently undergoing reconstruction. During the Summer 2014 the MHC Student Garden will not be in operation.*

Mission

To foster an increased awareness of local, sustainable food production systems and to provide an on-campus field site for the study of agro-ecological principles. The Garden Project also aims to build connections and share knowledge with the agricultural community of the Pioneer Valley, thereby strengthening the
college’s relationship to the regional community.  The garden is located on Prospect Hill.

History

The idea for the Mount Holyoke Garden Project began in 2004 with an independent study conducted by Kristen Schafenacker ‘05 and Heidi Roop ’07. Their project spurred the interest of students, and with approval from the school administration, the garden project was born. With funding generously provided by the Senior Class of 2007, the MHC Center for the Environment (CE) began to work with students to develop plans for the garden.

Goals

  • To create an organic farm (producing vegetables and fruits),and expand the “curricular trail” for academic use and community education;
  • To introduce MHC students, in coursework and research internships, to ecological principles and scientific and technical aspects of produce cultivation and soil dynamics;
  • To connect MHC students with civic organizations (e.g., Nuestras Raices, Gardening the Community, Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture) and researchers in the local community and Five College area;
  • To promote environmental sustainability, healthy food choices, and sustainable lifestyles through organic farming practices;
  • To coordinate with Dining Services to market farm-produced products;
  • To promote awareness and understanding among the MHC community of the importance of sustainable food production in solving local and global environmental problems.

Research at the Garden

In addition to the overall educational goals of the project, which link students with faculty in Environmental Studies, Ecology, History, Geography, Politics and Anthropology, research is conducted at the intersection between ecological and agricultural sciences, in a dynamic interdisciplinary setting. The Garden Project introduces students, through coursework and research internships, to ecological principles and technical aspects of produce cultivation and soil dynamics.  A unique feature of this organic garden is a focus on research, looking at differences between organic compost and organic fertilizer treatments.  Student interns have evaluated the effects of these two treatments on soil dynamics, weed pressures, insect populations, and overall yield of vegetables.

Currently, the Ecology class in the Fall evaluates vegetable yield as their first laboratory exercise, which includes statistical analysis using t-tests and summary statistics.  The Sustainable Agriculture course offered in the Spring semester evaluates soil fertility at the Garden and makes recommendations for the upcoming season’s compost and fertilizer needs. The Garden Project team is exploring other curricular and research tie-ins to the overall project.

Experiential Learning

The Garden Project provides opportunities for students to be engaged in hands-on sustainable agriculture by providing internship opportunities on and around the garden site.  The Center for the Environment funded 3 interns in 2007 and 2 interns in 2008.  In 2007, interns visited other agricultural projects at Dartmouth, Middlebury, Wesleyan, and Yale.  In 2008, interns experienced local food production in the area, working for a day at Red Fire Farm in Granby, MA and attending the Northeast Organic Farming Association Summer Conference. They explored the link between urban agriculture and community development, through multiple work days at community organizations Gardening the Community in Springfield, Massachusetts, and Nuestras Raices in Holyoke, Massachusetts.  In both years, the season culminated with a lively harvest festival, a delicious Local Foods Gracious Dinner featuring vegetables from the garden, and an engaging faculty tea.

The current student garden managers are Reesha Katcher '10 and Crystal Rain '10. Reesha and Crystal will be involved in the planning of garden activities for the rest of the 2009-10 academic year, and possibly beyond.

Community-Building

Through harvest parties, local gracious dinners, faculty teas and garden work, the Garden Project aims to strengthen ties within the MHC community. Crops selected for the garden are ones that can be harvested in the fall. The produce is purchased by Dining Services and served to the college community at the Local Foods Gracious Dinner.

At garden faculty teas, students and faculty engage in discussions on the history, successes and goals of the garden, and on how to incorporate the garden into curricula across various disciplines.