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Emory Gardens

Courtesy of: Alex Ko

Ripe, juicy tomatoes blaze fire engine red in the morning sunlight. The golden mane of a sunflower radiates smiles to each passerby. Fat, glistening strawberries cry out “eat me!”. Are these the hanging gardens of Babylon? Queen Elizabeth’s royal plaza perhaps? NO! It’s your very own Emory Gardens!

 The gardens were started in 2007 by former biology professor Chad Brommer, who saw an interest from faculty and students in the educational, aesthetic, and health-related benefits of having gardens on campus. After a long process of approvals that went all the way to the board of trustees, the garden proposal was accepted. While there was enthusiasm for the educational potential of the gardens, also it was required that this part of Emory’s landscape “look good” in the words of Dr. Peggy Barlett. Dr. Bartlett is Chair of the Sustainable Food Committee, which has oversight of the gardens as one of its seven charges. There are seven gardens located across Emory’s campuses; in front of Dooley’s Depot, next to the Rollins School of Public Health, across from Cox Hall, at the Center for Science Education on Oxford Road, on the grounds of Oxford College, behind the School of Nursing, and at Yerkes Primate Center. There are also plans to implement a new eighth garden this year, next to the School of Theology. The School of Nursing has an herb garden, which provides a look at some of the natural remedies available and is also where some of today’s modern pharmaceuticals may come from. Yerkes Primate Center caters its garden to the apes, with enhancements such as marigolds and herbs. The Oxford College and Oxford road gardens grow seasonal crops from around the area to provide education about agriculture. All of the gardens are overseen by Judith Robertson, the “Gardening Guru”. Judith is responsible for coordinating all of the deliveries to the gardens and working with facilities management as well as the garden teams to ensure that things run smoothly.

The Rollins, Depot, and Cox gardens are special in that they are managed by the students, staff, and faculty interested in reconnecting with the earth and gaining experience working in a garden, or just interested in showing off the possibilities that an on-campus garden offers. Dr. Barlett, a professor in Anthropology with research experience in sustainable food and agriculture and a supporter of the Emory Educational Garden Project from its beginnings, recognizes this as “part of an awakening interest in local food.” She also commented on how the gardens provide a space for incidental agricultural or horticultural education, telling a story of overhearing an Emory employee exclaiming “Oohhh, so that’s how broccoli grows.”  Awareness of the full range of Georgia crops is currently supported by a grant to the Gardens from the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

Originally, these three gardens were developed with a more central role for student leadership, which has been possible for some, but not all the teams. One of the difficulties is turnover, as students go abroad, are not around in the summer which is a critical time for many crops, or don’t find interest in the garden until later in their student careers. Team members’ interests also evolve, so garden teams constantly need to be renewed.   A delicious kick-off dinner is offered to old and new garden enthusiasts, at the beginning of each semester, and informal potlucks bring people together several times, especially during the summer.  There have also been plusses for all the student workers: raising awareness for locally grown foods, not to mention the delicious harvests that the gardens bring in. Just last week, kale, arugula, and butter lettuce were harvested and made into a delicious salad. This harvest came during the Garden Crawl, a gardening event that coordinates folks who want to get involved and encourages more people to take part in the different gardens.

The Garden Crawl happens every Sunday, and brings students, faculty, and staff together to work on the three group-managed gardens. Starting at 11, people meet at the Rollins garden, and then work their way over to the Depot garden at noon, and finish at the Cox garden at one. Interested folks can drop by at any point in the crawl.  Attendance is historically lower in the colder months when it isn’t nearly as nice to be out working in the gardens, but there is a regular group of about 20 people that work on the gardens, according to Dr. Barlett. These gardens provide a great connection to local produce, working with the earth, and eventually enjoying the benefits of hard labor as delicious vegetables and fruits. If interested, please contact Judith Robertson at antjr@emory.edu.

Happy Gardening!

Alexander Ko- ’10

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