Cultivating Sustainability

A cornucopia of organic produce aims to take a bite out of hunger.

By Eastern Magazine

Recent upgrades to the university’s sort-of-secret Sustainability Garden — already a cornucopia of gorgeous organic produce — are giving this out-of-the-way plot a more prominent role in helping food-insecure students eat better.

The changes this season, according to EWU Sustainability Coordinator Erik Budsberg, have been something of a turning point for the garden. This, he says, is chiefly thanks to a redesign that has made it more manageable.

“This is something anybody can build in their backyard if they have a limited space or want something easy and contained,” Budsberg says.

“What we’ve done here is a more traditional row crop,” Budsberg says. “The garden used to be a lot more spread out, so we took everything and packed it into a tighter area. Before we would have grass and weeds in between the beds and that was just getting too hard for me to manage.”

Budsberg says the changes aren’t only about weed management; they are also about introducing the campus community to do-it-yourself food production. “We wanted to showcase two different ways to make food,” he says.

EWU Sustainability Garden
Fertile ground for fighting hunger.

The first way — crop rows — are typically bursting with many of the vegetables you would expect: corn, beans, cucumbers, beets, carrots, onions, potatoes, peppers, turnips, tomatoes, squash, zucchini and pumpkins. There are also raspberries, grapes and an orchard with apple and peach trees.

The second growing method, new to the EWU garden this year, involves raised beds — essentially large boxes framed with wood or cement block. Filled with composted topsoil, raised beds can help gardeners overcome less-than-perfect soil conditions in their native grounds.

“This is something anybody can build in their backyard if they have a limited space or want something easy and contained,” Budsberg says.

Earlier this fall, EWU’s raised beds were packed with lettuce, kale, spinach, chard, broccoli, peas, radishes, turnips and beets. Budsberg says these “salad mix” plants have a shorter growing season and are more frost tolerant.

The goal, he adds, is to have much of this food ready when the majority of students return to campus. During fall quarter, for example, free food from the garden was distributed via “Fresh Market” events that were held on Thursdays in front of the PUB. Anything left over was given to food-pantry cabinets around campus, while more perishable items were forwarded to EWU Dining Services for use in campus meals.

“We’re trying to make something that is really useful for the university,” adds Budsberg. “For students to be able to use but that also is not a big draw on resources.”