Community garden would ensure rosy sustainability

Administrators should answer students’ calls to develop a green space

by Amelia Ashmall-Liversidge / Beacon Correspondent • February 23, 2012

For the past four years, I have gone to Emerson College and spent day after day walking across the same old sprawl of urban concrete. Being from New York City, this is something I’m used to — the feel of the pavements under my feet and the rush to make that light before the anxious cars plow through the streets. While Boston Common lies only across the street from our campus, I have had no part in its growth and I know little about it. 

In an interview with the Beacon, President Lee Pelton has previously expressed interest to integrate the Common into our community, but we have not seen any solid plans for action. 

The park is a public place for a reason — the people of Boston’s greater urban landscape need it, and it is for all of us to share. Emerson is an institution with its own community, which deserves to raise its own garden. If there were even a small plot of soil where students like me could grow just one flower, that land would mean more to us than the Common. 

We would have to learn the best time of the year to lay its seed and under what conditions it would thrive and eventually die. With every effort we put into sustaining something, we feel more responsible for it and can truly appreciate all the energy that went into its growth.

Most of us don’t know how to farm or even maintain the growth of a single fruit or vegetable. Without the dining hall, cafes, and supermarkets, we would have nothing to sustain ourselves. With access solely to these types of food sources, we are left with only a basic appreciation of what goes into the food we eat.  

While we don’t think about where that carrot on our plate came from, it has most likely traveled thousands of miles to get there, harvested by someone far removed from us. Today, Emerson students are thinking about these concerns more than ever. We need a garden to practice sustainability and to engage and learn from one another. Just as we share film tricks and story critiques, we can also share tips on the best kind of soil to grow a tomato. And just as we collaborate to create plays or a dance, we can get to know one another as we replant a tree whose roots are finally extending.

Students have begun exploring options for urban gardens in communities like ours. Working with Emerson Peace and Social Justice (EPSJ), sophomore Jen Gasbarro found that Boston University and Tufts University have succeeded in planning and building urban gardens for their communities. Gasbarro, a marketing communication major, has written a proposal based on Yale’s sustainable food project and a brief rationale for this project based on Emerson College’s own mission statement and core values.

“This should be a school priority — it’s a way for Emerson to go ‘green,’” says Gasbarro. “There’s a lot of momentum coming from a lot of places right now.” 

EPSJ, Earth Emerson, and the Sustainability Committee, to name a few. We really need more than ambitious individuals and a few of Emerson’s student organizations to support this initiative because a community garden requires major planning and financial investment to lay down its seeds.

This year, Emerson professors such as Wyatt Oswald, want more than to study plant life from behind classroom walls. For courses like Plants and People, he said he hopes to have a space where students can physically interact with a natural environment, using their own senses to discover how plants fair and develop in a diverse environment.

Going forward, Emerson professor and scientist-in-residence Jon Honea said the effort was worth overcoming logistical questions. 

“We need to identify all the stakeholders, identify potential locations, and choose the one that best meets our needs. I expect it to be a great learning experience for us all.” With students and faculty expressing a real interest in these plans, it is time to get the ball rolling. 

There are members of our community who do know how to plant, having grown up on farms or with gardens, or even having studied plant life or urban gardens. One prime example is John Vanderpol, who is Emerson’s crew chief in custodial services for Facilities and attained a BA in science in plant and soil science. While Emerson’s interested groups and individuals have been searching for a feasible space to use, he has proposed Rotch Field in the South End, where our soccer, laccrosse, and softball teams play.

President Pelton, who has communicated his desire to bring in a green space, has the opportunity to seriously pursue this project. He needs to take action and invest in a garden that has potential to benefit everyone who is part of our community.  

Emerson’s community garden will become an asset more than worthy of Emerson’s financial investment. In September of 2007, then-President Jacqueline Liebergott signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment.  That commitment assures “actions to make climate neutrality and sustainability a part of the curriculum and other educational experience for all students.”

As Emerson organizations, students, and administrators have expressed, it is time to fulfill that promise. Students and faculty alike understand the importance of community engagement and the opportunity that would arise to recognize the effort and empowerment of bringing the life that feeds us into our community.