As cooler weather approaches, students may find themselves wanting to spend more time in the outdoors.
Hilltop Gardens offers five acres covered with organic vegetable plants, flowers and more. Students and Bloomington residents can volunteer here or attend programs that teach the importance of gardening. Different IU departments also use the gardens as educational tools. The gardens, created in 1948, serve as an educational and recreational resource for gardening and connecting with nature, coordinator Lea Woodard said.
The gardens are open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Woodard said students are welcome to volunteer, go for a walk or relax in the garden. Another option is for students to volunteer in the campus garden, located within Hilltop Gardens.
The campus garden, an initiative from the IU Office of Sustainability, aims to provide a space for the IU community to engage in hands-on organic gardening, said Corben Andrews, a sophomore and intern at the garden.
“We’re really trying to encourage people to change their behavior and eat more sustainable, locally sourced food,” Andrews said.
Andrews said the group of volunteers is currently working on direct seeding, a process in which volunteers put the seeds directly into the ground instead of transplanting them. While there are still some summer vegetables, like peas and carrots, left, he said the majority of fresh produce they have is leafy greens.
The campus garden volunteers currently meet on Mondays and Thursdays but will soon switch to Fridays from 5 to 7 p.m. This new meeting time will be implemented after an event at which students will be able to tour the gardens Sept. 19.
The event, set to take place from 6 to 8 p.m., will also include the opportunity to transplant a plant to take home and a meal prepared by an IU chef using campus garden ingredients.
This program is just one of many set for the year. Volunteers from the campus garden set up other educational programs with IU student groups as well as offer a rent-a-plot program in the spring where students can apply to be responsible for their own section of the garden.
The rest of Hilltop Gardens also offers programs for IU students and Bloomington residents.
Woodard said she believes some of the most important work they do is teaching children how to garden.
“If kids are gardening, they’re outside and unplugged from technology, and they’re more likely to eat the produce that they’re growing,” Woodard said.
She also said she enjoys the sense of community that comes along with gardening. Woodard experienced these types of relationships as she was growing up on her family’s dairy farm, she said. Her family’s common goal of growing their own food led them to become closer and work together.
She has seen this same sense of community when teaching students and Bloomington families about the different aspects of gardening, Woodard said.
She said she also believes gardening is good for mental health. This benefit is prevalent when she sees the effect gardening can have on students’ day-to-day lives.
“They’re all stressed out about tests. They come out here, they’ll be here for just a couple hours, and they have brighter faces and brighter eyes,” Woodard said.
She said she thinks these, in addition to the educational aspects, are all important parts of gardening. Many professors and students will come to the gardens in order to learn more about the plants and how they interact with the environment.
The IU textiles program runs an area of the gardens that includes different dye plants. Woodard said the students take care of the plants and harvest them so they can use them for their projects.
She said she likes that all IU departments are able to work with the gardens. Hilltop Gardens strives to help visitors, like those from the various IU departments, experience the benefits of gardening.
“It’s to build communities, to work together and learn from each other,” Woodard said.