Eating locally grown food is now easier than ever for students at the University of Georgia. With the new campus community garden, students can harvest their own vegetables while learning gardening techniques.
UGArden, the UGA student group responsible for the garden on South Milledge Avenue in Athens, Ga., began harvesting vegetables in June. On Aug. 22, they held a fall kick-off featuring their produce. Students dined on potluck dishes they made with locally grown ingredients.
Participants in the group range from the experienced to those who have never planted a seed in the ground. With the help of UGA professors and the Athens Area Master Gardeners association, students learn how to properly tend a sustainable garden.
“Having a community garden is awesome,” said UGA student Ellen Bogswell. “We work for a couple hours and take home what we harvested. I haven’t had to buy veggies in weeks.”
Doug Bailey, head of the UGA horticulture department, believes the garden is important because it not only teaches good gardening practices but also social responsibility.
Students get to experience all the benefits of a local garden that provides fresh produce, he said.
A percentage of each harvest also goes to a local food bank. According to UGA student Jenny Brickman, co-president of UGArden, the group has so far donated 500 pounds of produce to the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia.
The students also noted that the produce tastes better.
“We live in Georgia, yet the vast majority of our peaches come from California,” said UGA junior Kate Klein. “Really, I think eating locally is important due to the transportation of food. Environmental degradation is a result of the transportation. Eating in season is also really important.”
Student interest in local food is growing, and this eating local bug is found at other universities in Georgia as well.
Emory University has eight small food gardens on campus maintained by faculty, staff, students and community neighbors. Brickman says they are a daily reminder to students about local food and where it comes from.
According to an Emory website, Emory’s goal is for the cafeterias and hospitals to use 75 percent of local or sustainably grown food by 2015.
Locally grown food is becoming increasing popular and is important for a number of reasons. Craig Page, a UGA master’s student and executive director of P.L.A.C.E (Promoting Agriculture and Cultural Experience), says local food is important environmentally – such as how and where it was grown and economically – because the profit stays in the community.
On a smaller scale, buying local food helps keep local farms in business.
“It’s also great health wise because it is fresh. It brings people together and allows them to connect, and it allows for food security,” Page said. “Just like with the egg recall, in case something happens to a delivery, the product is available locally.”
University food gardens are not the only way to get involved and support sustainability. According to Brickman, gardening at home, building community gardens and buying from local farmers’ markets are important in the local food effort.