Garden of eating
As students headed indoors this week to attend lectures, seminars and precepts, a few brave souls traveled in the opposite direction to an empty lot at the corner of Alexander Road and University Place.
The plot is set to be transformed into a 3,000-sq. ft. organic garden, through which students from several majors — including architecture, visual arts and engineering — will replace the barren with the bountiful in an effort to make Princeton a greener place.
The garden's construction follows the cultivation of a smaller organic garden behind Forbes College this summer. Ruthie Schwab '09 secured a 55-by-12-ft. space adjacent to the golf course. She began digging and planting the garden in April with Ben Elga '08 and Diana Bonaccorsi '08.
Schwab first conceived the idea of the gardens after becoming frustrated by meetings between the student group Greening Princeton and Dining Services on how to make dining hall food and cleaning supplies more environmentally friendly.
"I realized that one of the major difficulties of changing the menu to be more sustainable was actually to cope with the student expectation of the regular range of options," Schwab said in an email. "Students at Princeton are very health conscious, but many of us do not think to consider the health of our food, the soil it was grown in and how it directly impacts our own wellbeing and that of our environment."
As the gardens begin growing a food source closer to home, Schwab said she hopes her classmates will become more conscious of the full path their meals travel, from seedlings to supper.
The Forbes garden currently supplies fresh produce to the College's dining hall, a function Schwab said she hopes it will continue to serve.
The Alexander Road garden will fill a more educational role through its greater variety of greens and its use as a space for special events, Schwab said.
"Once designed and planted, the larger plot will offer a wide variety of produce so that students can get a sense of how many varieties of each plant exist, as well as how many different vegetables you can grow here that you don't necessarily find in the supermarket," she said. "The plot will ultimately provide a space to grow, prepare and enjoy fresh produce."
With its greater prominence, Schwab said, the new garden will help visitors "see their food literally move from farm to form in one space, thereby grounding people to their environment and demonstrating the direct connection between people and land."
Efforts to publicize the new garden and help speed along its completion are underway. On Nov. 5, the architecture school will begin a series of lectures on sustainable architecture before kicking off a design contest for the new space.
Schwab also wants visual arts students to create sculptures for the new site and a mural for the garden behind Forbes.
Though she hopes the new garden will be more prominent, Schwab has already succeeded in publicizing the existing garden, with a freshman writing seminar coming there on Friday to discuss nature.
Daniel Stanton GS also is designing an ecology and evolutionary biology course that will make frequent use of the garden. Schwab plans to launch a winter lecture series at Forbes that will include films, discussions and cooking demonstrations using the garden's ingredients.
Such visits could get help college students become interested in greener living. Bonaccorsi said she first became intent on organic gardening at Princeton.
"I started getting interested in sustainable agriculture when I came to college," she said. "I missed those fresh home-cooked meals my mom used to make."
Schwab, meanwhile, has had a green thumb since her senior year of high school, when she started a community-supported garden outside of New Haven, Conn. She came to college wanting to start a similar project.
But she said the garden can appeal to the wide-ranging audience of "anyone who likes to eat good food or spend time outside."
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