Garden plots allow RPS residents to grow own produce



Spring is here. The chipmunks are coming out of their burrows, crocuses are pushing their fragile heads into the pale March sunlight and IU’s gardeners are ready to get their fingers green.

That’s because Residential Programs and Services has just opened its campus garden allotments to students. The plots, located near the water tower on the East State Road 46 bypass, are part of the office’s strategy to create green spaces. Forty plots are available, each measuring 11” by 11”, at a cost of $25.

This is the second year that the allotments have been available. In the past, students had to apply for a place at Hilltop Garden and Nature Center, but last year there was no more room. So University architects and housing services came together to create the new enclosure.

“We threw this together,” said Tim Stockton, associate director of apartment housing, “and it worked.”

The students helped organize and then create the garden. They tilled the land, cleared away rubbish and erected a fence. It wasn’t always a smooth process, but eventually it all came together.

“We had a few growing pains with the fence,” Stockton said, who lent his own gardening tools to help with the plots. “I loaned them my truck — my truck will never be the same.”

Last year students grew common produce such as tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, but there were also some more exotic species.

“There were some things even I didn’t recognize,” Stockton said, noting that last year he saw the garden as an experiment that can be perfected this year.

“It’s an amazing place to see cultures interact together,” Garden Manager Katie Peebles said, who revelled in the opportunity to witness Asian and European gardening techniques first-hand.

Peebles’ role is not only to organize the garden but to offer advice and assistance to students. She sends out a weekly gardening guidance e-mail, gives a monthly workshop and recommends books and Web sites that might help students. The University, using the registration fee, provides tools and a safe storage place for any extra equipment that the students contribute. Stockton himself took a plot last year and intends to do the same again this year.

Area Coordinator of apartment housing Erna Rosenfeld said there has been a greater interest in the allotments this year, and 16 of the plots have already been taken. Stockton plans to plant flowers in any unused plots, which would not only be attractive but would keep weeds at bay.

As well as providing residents the chance to grow their own food, the gardens have also acted as a meeting place for students.

“It’s a good thing for the community to rally around,” Peebles said.

Stockton said he hopes the gardens will encourage self-reliance, promote understanding of the environment and enrich the campus. This year he is planning on planting a line of sunflowers along the edge of the garden to beautify the view from the bypass.

The plots can also serve the rest of Bloomington. One way is by donating the produce to food banks or organizations such as Martha’s Kitchen that provide meals for the homeless. Another idea that Stockton wants to promote is that the gardens can educate children about where food comes from. In the age of processed platters, Stockton said gardening can teach natural nourishment.

Peebles said she believes gardening is something everyone should be passionate about, and the allotments are an expression of an innate urge.

“When you want to garden, you’ll find a way,” Peebles said. 

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