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Juniata Student Organic Garden Idea Takes Root on Campus

(Posted August 24, 2010)

Juniata junior Elly Engle, right foreground, and at left, Chesney Richter, a junior, prepare seedlings earlier this year for planting in the College's organic garden. The garden, located behind Brumbaugh Academic Center, is being used to provide some vegetables to Juniata's dining hall.

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Cooking and dining enthusiasts, along with anyone else who watches The Food Network, know that the food trend these days is to eat locally and act globally. Two Juniata College students have taken that seed of an idea and put it into practice by starting an organic garden on the college's campus.

Located on a patch of ground behind Brumbaugh Academic Center, one of Juniata's largest classroom buildings, the new garden features 45 different varieties and crops ranging from heirloom tomatoes to potatoes to jalapeno peppers.

"When I was a freshman, I didn't spend a whole lot of time focusing on what I was eating," says Elly Engle, a junior from Penns Valley, Pa. studying environmental and political science, who started the garden with another student, Chesney Richter, a junior from Pueblo, Colo., now studying in New Zealand. "When Chesney and I were taking (a) Botany (course) we were looking for a semester-long project and we chose to create a garden."

The students broke ground on the garden, called "Roots and Shoots" by the student club The Student Food Initiative, in April and Engle has been tending the six different plots containing the college's crops. At 700 square feet, the entire garden is not capable of Del Monte-like output, but Engle and the student club she heads, the Student Food Initiative, have received commitments from Sodexo Inc. Juniata's food services provider, to incorporate the garden's output into Juniata's dining menus.

"The garden has been something the students have wanted to do for a long time. We've delivered tomatoes, squash and peppers and the dining halls have served the vegetables during the summer to students attending camps on campus," Engle says. Because the prime growing and harvesting season comes when Juniata is on summer break, Engle and Hal McLaughlin, manager for Sodexo, have met several times to plan how to incorporate more produce from the garden as the project expands.

"The garden has been something the students have wanted to do for a long time. We've delivered tomatoes, squash and peppers and the dining halls have served the vegetables during the summer to students attending camps on campus."
Elly Engle, junior, Penns Valley, Pa.

"We're folding the garden products into the menus as she brings it in," says McLaughlin. "So far we've used a lot of the produce in our catering and we usually put up a sign with it that tells diners the produce came from Juniata's garden."

In the meantime, McLaughlin and the Student Food Initiative club are considering opening a new dining hall option for students featuring locally grown organic vegetables called the LOVE Line. "It stands for Local Organic Vegetarian Eatery," Engle explains. "Eventually we would like to incorporate some of the garden's late-season crops, like potatoes, into the dining hall during the school year."

McLaughlin points out that much of the fresh food used in Juniata's dining hall is locally grown or distributed (local is considered within a 100-mile radius). In fact, Sodexo has a large map outside the dining facility showing the farms where their products come from

Engle is also planting some ideas for future expansion with Juniata's administrators. She has already proposed using about a 10-acre parcel of Juniata land along Route 26 as a larger operation. She envisions planting with root crops such as potatoes, garlic and onions.

"We also want to work with the community," she says. "This summer we contributed produce to Huntingdon's Summer Food Service and if we expand the garden, one option might be to have high school students or community members take over the plots on campus."

Engle and other students have already expanded the garden program to Juniata's Raystown Field Station, where two platform gardens are planted. "We're having more problems with deer and wildlife out there," says Engle, who is currently vice president of the Environmental Coalition, a student club, and president of the Student Food Initiative.

"The best crops for production this summer have been the cherry tomatoes and the jalapeno peppers. The only thing we haven't considered is corn because we want to stay away from (crops) that have a big impact on the soil."

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.