The end of summer is rapidly approaching, and for most of us that means a return to classes, social life, and way less sleep. For the organizers of Project V.E.G.G.I.E., a student-run on-campus garden, it also means harvest time.
Their hard work planting in the spring semester and continued maintenance through the summer is already yielding results: berries, squash, tomatoes, and sunflowers are ripe or blooming and ready to pick. When I approached the garden, I was stunned by how beautiful and productive it was after only two and a half years. I was even more shocked that I hadn’t noticed it even after living on campus for nearly a year and a half. Located behind the Andy Holt parking garage, it’s out-of-the way; so much so it’s hard to pick out even if you’re parked next to it. Despite this, there’s no doubt that the garden is thriving, and it’s garnered a remarkable amount of attention from the student population.
I walked out to the garden with Candice Lawton, Senior Sustainability Major and Founder of Project V.E.G.G.I.E., to ask her about the club’s creation, progress, and future.
The club was the idea of Candice and cofounder Neil, who met through University Housing programs. The two shared the goals of making campus more sustainable and improving the diet of UT students.
“There is a gap between our knowledge of environmental problems and how much people care,” Candice said. “I believe that food has the potential to change that.”
They originally planned to create the garden next to Andy Holt but it became clear that avenue was not viable due to construction plans. Instead, the founders secured a plot of land through the Office of Sustainability and gardening tools through UT Recycling. They decided to staff the garden through student volunteers, hoping it would bring students into closer contact with the environment and their own dietary health.
Since then, they’ve boosted membership and awareness of the garden by hosting service days with other organizations, tabling on pedestrian walkway, publishing in newsletters and the Daily Beacon, and working with Sustainability Professors such as the the Soil Sciences professors and their adviser, Dr. McKinney. Still, it took two years until Candice felt they were well known on campus.
Candice hopes that the garden will continue to serve the function is served for her and all Project V.E.G.G.I.E. club members. “It’s a non-pressure place to discover gardening,” she said. “It has definitely changed the way I view food. If you were to ask me what meal I’d prefer or had higher value it’d definitely be a freshly grown meal.” Candice also said that the garden has helped her feel closer to the environment and allowed her to discover a passion for sustainable food. “Food and what is means for sustainability is my niche, and because of Project V.E.G.G.I.E., I now know what it takes to start a business or nonprofit.”
In the future, they hope to attract a larger group of students and faculty from a wider array of interests, especially during the summer when they are badly understaffed. They hope also to work more closely with some of the UT academic programs and other organic gardens in the area. Although the club is still growing, the architecture of something truly great is already built and Project V.E.G.G.I.E. promises to be a continuing success.
To celebrate their accomplishments, they will be holding their annual cookout this Thursday at 7:00 next to the Project V.E.G.G.I.E. garden. They will be joined by SPEAK, which will provide Veggie Burgers, and Cruze Farms, which will provide freshly made ice cream. For more information about the event, visit our events page here: Project V.E.G.G.I.E. Summer Cookout.