It's deep in the winter season, but Catawba College students, Jonathan Buffkin of Chadbourn and Sloan Kessler of Onalaska, Wis., are dreaming of fresh lettuce, spinach and kale. The two are making plans to seed those crops in early February in the new Sustainable Garden at Catawba.
The garden, which will be organic, is located on a vacant lot the college owns on W. Innes Street where Buffkin believes "people will see it and know what its purpose is and what's going on."
One way to draw attention to the garden is with a sign being provided by Quick Copy of Salisbury that will face W. Innes Street.
The garden is just one of the projects being funded through Catawba's Green Revolving Fund. Buffkin applied for $500 in "seed money" for the garden from the fund and his application was successful. He believes the garden will be a tool to promote sustainability, a healthy diet, and to address hunger and food injustices in the community. It will help teach Catawba students about where their food comes from, and will become a parting gift to the college from Catawba's Senior Class of 2014, which Buffkin serves as president.
"My generation doesn't know where food comes from and it's disappointing," Buffkin, an Exercise Science major at Catawba, said. "I grew up around conventional farming operations and my family gardens, but not organically. It makes me have to research and come up with alternatives to pesticides and alternatives to chemical fertilizers.
"The main mission of this garden at Catawba is not even to produce food – the real mission is to show where food comes from," he continued. "We're not producing enough to feed the student body, but we're trying to target people's hearts and their mouths.
"This garden is exciting because it will introduce a whole new addition to Catawba's sustainability movement. We're working with different clubs, like ECO (Environment Catawba Outreach) and other student organizations, to try to actually educate our students. We're the ones who need to hear it."
While not large, Buffkin says that the Sustainable Garden at Catawba will be strong. It consists of 10 8' x 4' raised box beds filled with organic soil provided for the project by 1976 Catawba alumnus Bill Godley of Godley's Garden Center in Salisbury.
"We're very fortunate that folks in the community have been helping us a lot with supplies. This has helped stretch our $500 a long way so far," Buffkin explained. "This soil is a big help because it's our foundation. How do you get healthy food? You start with healthy soil. Your environment has to be healthy. Good food makes healthy people. Healthy food makes healthy people. You have to practice being healthy in what you eat and in how you grow what you eat."
Interested Catawba students, some "who have never even put their hands in the soil" will be able to adopt individual plots in the garden, so they "can see their own things come up and grow," Buffkin added. He explained that gardening workshops are also planned for the campus community during the spring.
Catawba's Food Services Director, Jason Ritter of Chartwells, Inc., has agreed to serve some of the bounty from the campus garden in the dining hall this semester. This will be another way that students can see and taste the difference in locally grown, organic food.
After Buffkin graduates in May, Kessler, a junior, will pick up and carry the garden baton.
"I'm on the way out and so we need someone who will see this all the way through," Buffkin concluded. "I helped bring it to where it is right now and Sloan will take this thing and run with it. She'll be here this summer and will work the garden and see it through."
"For me this is an opportunity to bring together all of the moving parts related to my academic major which is Sustainable Business and Community Development," Kessler said. "The garden may also serve as a model for the community and students to teach them how to incorporate sustainability into everyday life."
Catawba created its Green Revolving Fund (GRF) during the fall of 2012 to finance on-campus investments in clean energy and resource reduction. GRFs capture the savings from lower utility bills and other resource reduction programs, using that money to reinvest in more projects that reduce the college's ecological footprint. At the time, it was one of 42 institutions, mainly colleges and universities in the United States and Canada that were employing this method of funding sustainable projects. The same year the GRF was established, Catawba received a gift of $100,000 toward its goal of raising $400,000 over four years to provide the principal for its GRF.
Catawba President Brien Lewis said, "This garden is a great example of students' leadership and the green/sustainability culture at Catawba. I'm also excited to see our GRF doing what it was intended to do."
Track the progress of the Sustainable Garden at Catawba and other campus sustainability efforts through the college website at www.catawba.edu/sustain.