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New crop of leaders arrive at gardens

Students offer growing options to faculty, local residents.

While preparations for harvest begin, the executive board at Temple Community Gardens has been preparing throughout the summer for a new semester and a new group of leaders to take charge at the gardens hidden behind the red walls at Broad and Norris streets.

After the executive board was elected at the beginning of the spring semester, leaders from the group are preparing to continue with the organization’s traditional programing while growing some new ideas at the garden.

“We do [our elections] in January for the calendar year since we have the growing season that goes through the summer,” said TCG President Katy Ament, a junior environmental studies major. “It just kind of makes more sense for us to do it that way, and then it’s easier to transition into the new school year with Student Activities things and all that.”

Official student organizations have requirements they must fulfill in order to retain their status as a legitimate student group on campus. Groups are required to have at least 10 current members, as well as attend various workshops and trainings hosted by the Student Activities office.

“A lot of our really committed members and our oldest members have graduated, which is kind of sad. I miss them,” Ament said. “But it’s exciting because you’re always getting new people who are interested, and we have a really good group of new students this year who are super excited, so I’m really looking forward to that.”

TCG Vice President Gabrielle Taube said that with new leadership and members comes new priorities for the school year.

“We’re always changing our mission just with the dynamics of agriculture, student agriculture,” said Taube, a senior geography and urban studies major. “There’s always kind of a change in what we’re trying to do because we have so many things that we can do. We can focus on nutrition issues, we can focus on campus involvement, we can focus on urban greening, so with different leadership there’s definitely different goals.”

Ament said that as president, she will focus on raising awareness about the group within the Temple community and attract people interested in gardening.

“My overall goal is to get as many people excited about growing plants. It doesn’t even have to be vegetables because so many plants have a million different purposes,” Ament said. “The biggest word that stands out in my head is empowerment. It’s just so rewarding knowing that you can plant a seed and then create life out of it.”

Belinda Christensen, a study abroad adviser, is one of the garden’s plot owners and uses the space along with her family.

“I heard from one of our student workers that TCG had plots available for staff members, so my partner and I started to garden in one of the plots this past summer,” Christensen said in an email. “He’s a landscaper who specializes in sustainable practices, and I just love to eat, so the garden has a draw for each of us.”

In addition to working with individuals, Ament said TCG collaborates with various schools and majors to integrate gardening into the curriculum.

“I think that gardening and plants can apply to any department almost across campus,” Ament said. “This summer we had the fibers department from Tyler and the biology department gardening with us. The fibers department was growing stuff for natural dyes, and the biology department was growing veggies but being really scientific about it and measuring stuff and observing them and recording their observations. Everyone gets something a little bit different out of it, which I think is really cool.”

In addition to gardening instruction, TCG offers students an outlet for engagement with the community in the area surrounding Main Campus.

“For some [students], it’s a way to just have fun and learn how to garden,” Christensen said. “Beyond that, though, many of the students have used their involvement with the garden as a way to open up lines of communication and mutual support with the surrounding community – something that is sorely needed. By reaching out, the TCG members are directly addressing issues they’re probably talking about in class: food sovereignty, race and gentrification, environmental health, you name it.”

TCG works with residents of Kairos House, a shelter that helps homeless people reestablish themselves with employment and responsibilities. Residents have their own plot at TCG, where they grow food for the meals they serve their fellow residents.

“This year, [Kairos House] was so successful,” Ament said. “They have a garden bed with cherry tomatoes. They just planted some beans that are producing like crazy and a couple other plants. We’ve come so far from the beginning [of the program]. There’s one person who has still been coming since the time we started this a year and a half ago. When it started he said, ‘Oh, I don’t want to eat that stuff, it came from the ground. That’s gross.’ But now they get excited and come by and say ‘Oh yeah, all of our garden plants are growing really well.’ It’s really cool to see how their perspectives have changed.”

In previous years, TCG has worked with the Penrose Recreation Center, giving classes in nutrition, gardening and environmental stewardship to school-aged students. However, Penrose and several other local community and recreation centers are under construction, effectively suspending TCG’s after school program. Ament said she has other ideas for reviving that program and starting other programs focused on education.

“We’re planning on having a series of workshops this year, because something I’ve noticed is a lot of people will get excited and then will all get into the garden and be like, ‘We don’t know what we’re doing,’” Ament said. “So over the winter months, in late fall and through the winter, [we are] having a series of workshops that [include] the basics and a little bit beyond the basics, things you can try out, when to start planting and things like that, so once we start gardening again in the spring, everyone is like, ‘OK, I know what I’m doing’”

TCG meets Thursday nights at 8pm in Room 367A of the Student Center.

Kate Kelly can be reached at katekelly@temple.edu. 

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