Construction plans uproot local garden
By Sarah Zinn
A white and orange sign read “Road Closed,” blocking entry to the 800 block of Eighth street. A mouse darted out of a pile of mulch by the garden’s wooden gate, almost running into Daniel Atlas. He got to the garden a little early for the workday Sunday.
Atlas created the Students Producing Organics Under The Sun garden nine years ago and has been a faithful attendee ever since.
Sadly, Atlas said, volunteer attendance at SPROUTS student garden has been low since the news came out that SPROUTS will be kicked out of their space on the corner of Eighth Street and Fess Avenue.
In June the IU Board of Trustees approved the construction of the new Phi Gamma Delta house in the University Courts neighborhood.
This will result in the relocation of four or five houses on East Eighth Street and the demolition of one or two. One house will be relocated to the lot where SPROUTS is located.
Soon after the campus bell tower chimed 5 p.m., Atlas was joined by SPROUTS Senior Vice President Lauren Martin.
“We’re cutting mint today, right?” Martin said, bringing buckets of dirt into the garden.
Martin started coming to SPROUTS because it was a space she could hang out with people and learn. Amid the partying environment of college, it’s been a haven for her.
“This gave me an outlet for meeting other people without having to be in a partying kind of space,” she said. “The fraternity life is much more centered around drinking and partying.”
No members of SPROUTS received any formal notification that the garden would be affected by the Phi Gamma Delta, commonly referred to as Fiji, house construction.
Atlas said he knew the University had plans to expand the Maurer School of Law to the space on Third Street and Indiana Avenue, the current location of the Fiji house. This left the fraternity without a house. But Atlas would’ve liked some say in the process.
“There’s all of these little deals being made, and it would’ve been nice to be considered,” Atlas said.
Nine years ago, Atlas and two other students created the student garden, inspired by an IU course called Religion, Ecology and the Self.
After a year and a half of work, their proposal to plant a garden on the vacant lot on Eighth Street and Fess Avenue was approved on one condition; if a revenue-generating entity wanted their space, they’d be kicked out.
Now they’re unsure how long they have left to garden together in this space.
Since its start, the garden has been a site for school tours and speakers and has provided food to local homeless shelters.
From 5 to 7 p.m. every Sunday and Wednesday students of all paths of study have been able to come and help with the garden. Whether it’s harvesting, weeding or mulching, students have been encouraged to participate and learn about the earth.
“The garden has opened many minds to a different way of eating, the importance of healthy food, sustainability, community development, smaller environmental footprint,” Atlas said.
Atlas has stayed involved in the garden since it began. He’s been witness to the kind of people the garden attracts, he said. Some just pass through, others stay involved for years. But he knows the garden has its effect on everyone in a unique way.
“Several students later went on to start their own home gardens because of their experience in SPROUTS,” Atlas said. “One in particular had never had a cherry tomato that tasted so good. Years later, we ran into each other and she reminded me of that moment and thanked me for it.”
In terms of community value, Atlas said he doesn’t think a fraternity is cause for such drastic construction and disruption of the entities on Eighth Street.
“Rape, drinking, drugs — these things are all dark aspects of fraternity life,” Atlas said. “But SPROUTS is an educational entity.”
The decision points to what the University values most, he said. Money.
“It doesn’t seem to benefit anyone but the top,” Atlas said. “There’s something crooked about that.”
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