If you’ve been on Dodge campus recently and paid close attention, you may have noticed three small garden beds just east of Allwine Hall at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). A small sign planted in the bed says it best: “Our community garden is sprouting. Stay tuned!”
The early concept for the community garden began in 2015 as an idea for students to build a garden on the south side of the Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center (CEC). Although supported by administrators, the idea was put on hold as a future possibility.
The idea was resurrected by members of the Sustainability Community of Practice for faculty on campus, said UNO biology professor Steven Rodie. Rodie, along with Dr. Elizabeth Chalecki, professor Farrah Grant, Dr. Zac Suriano and Dr. Dana Richter-Egger are the five faculty members who have collectively built the garden through their common interest in community gardens.
The three-bed garden contains locally-sourced flowers, mint, horseradish, rhubarb and a tomato plant so far, Rodie said.
“The Benson Plant Rescue was amazing, and they basically said: ‘Take any plants you want for free.’ So, anything we have out there is a start,” Rodie said.
The faculty members are using each of their $100 stipends awarded each year through creating sustainability coursework and the Sustainability Minor. The small amount of funding went toward the wooden boards and potting soil to put the garden beds together, but faculty members can optionally contribute to the garden out of their own pocket.
“Our primary mission is still education, so it needs to have strong ties to the classroom and to student learning,” said Richter-Egger, who teaches an Intro to Environmental Chemistry course.
“Food is chemistry. Growing food requires chemistry. Even if you want to grow organic food, it still requires chemistry,” Richter-Egger said. “We’re using the chemistry that kind of exists around us as opposed to something we might cook up in a lab somewhere.”
While students involved in environmental stewardship and sustainability courses may find themselves interacting with the community garden soon this fall, the garden is open to any students and faculty who wish to become a part of the project.
The benefits of the community garden are growing strong too, as Maverick Food Pantry has shown interest in fresh produce, since they mainly carry canned goods. Food Services has also expressed interest in potentially sourcing herbs from the garden.
“We don’t want it to be the garden of us five people – it’s a community garden,” Richter-Egger said.