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Planting seeds of sustainability

Designed by Amy Mackens
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By Cassie Balfour, Daily Arts Writer
Published September 13, 2012

In summer months, countless people cradle comically large watermelons without ever considering the fruit’s formative days. When Natural Resourses & Environment masters student Allyson Green described the process of watching a watermelon develop, she unconsciously spread her arms out like the tendrils of a watermelon’s vines.

“I had no idea what a watermelon looked like growing,” Green said. “To watch this little, tiny plant go from looking like it was about to die, and all of a sudden you had these beautiful flowers and this tiny little watermelon growing on it.
 “A little bit of hard work and some great things that have nothing to do with us are happening to make that little watermelon grow.”

Many students may think of gardening as an activity reserved for the elderly, whittling away their twilight years, which compels the question: Do University students see the merit of diving into the dirt; shovel and watering can in hand?

Business junior Yahya Syed takes classes right across from the University’s Cultivating Community garden, but says he’s never heard of it before.

“I wouldn’t say I notice anything at school,” Syed said. “If there are flowers, it makes the place look nice but that’s about it.”

Syed described the Nichols Arboretum as “amazing” and said he’s always enjoyed his mother’s garden. Yet he added that federal money shouldn’t be used to fund gardening unless it’s research related, referring to federal funds that went toward sustaining heirloom peonies at the Arboretum and Botanical Gardens in the summer of 2011. He added that the University shouldn’t be investing a significant amount of money on gardening for “aesthetics” alone.

But according to some, gardening can have artistic and practical merits that might justify why the ‘U’ allots resources to gardening and researching horticulture.

LSA junior Ali Imam says he believes urban farming is an important initiative that the University should continue to focus on in order to create a more sustainable food system.

“Green is good,” he said.

No matter what perceivable benefits might come from gardening, several students agreed that there is natural artistry inherent to gardening. With some nurturing, a garden can become a tangible work of public art.

Cultivating Community

Located between the apocalyptic sounds of East Quad’s renovation and frat houses littered with post-game Solo cups is the Cultivating Community garden, a patch of land outside of the Ginsberg Center. It overflows with sunflowers and greenery as tall as the students who likely walk past every day without giving it a second glance.

Yet students dedicated to Cultivating Community, a student organization on campus, are willing to get their hands a little dirty. They maintain a seemingly constant burst of color and natural artistry.

The group fosters a public space that beautifies a little corner of Ann Arbor while also demonstrating and supporting local gardening efforts that have tangible benefits for individuals and the collective public space.

A recent addition to the Cultivating Community family, Green spent the summer as an intern at the Arb, where as a program coordinator, she helped oversee all activities around the gardens. She organized workshops and field trips for those who were curious about gardening and growing their own food.

As the name suggests, Cultivating Community doesn’t just produce vegetables and flowers. Students from across the University come together to create their garden, a process that begets the group’s other main goal: outreach in Ann Arbor.

“We organized workshops and fieldtrips for people who just wanted to learn more about how to garden, how to eat locally, what to do with food from the garden,” Green said.