Tucked away on a little patch of grass behind Davis Hall is a garden. It’s a peaceful space, full of bright flowers and vegetables. As the bees and butterflies happily buzz by, it’s easy to forget you’re still on campus.
The SCSU Community Garden was built by Southern’s Office of Sustainability in 2011 and during each growing season, it serves as a gathering place for students to take what they need. Every semester, the Office of Sustainability hires interns to care for the garden. Sydney King, a senior anthropology major, is working as an intern for the Office of Sustainability and helps tend to the garden regularly.
King says she began working in the garden after taking a service-learning class and visiting the garden. She met Suzie Huminski, head of the office, who encouraged her to apply as an intern.
“Sustainability is always something I’ve been interested in but I wasn’t really getting any of it from what I was doing [on campus]” says King. “When I found out about this opportunity, it was a way for me to learn from people who knew a lot more from me.”
King started her work after she was hired through a grant from the Greater New Haven Green Fund, along with the support from the Antonacci Family Foundation, to work on pollinator awareness and to create a pollinator pathway.
This pathway is filled with plants that attract bees and other pollinators.
“We wanted to attract more pollinators because bees are endangered and that’s a big problem,” she says.
King says that part of her internship included planting flowers that bees would be attracted to.
“Bees really like purples and blues so those are all things we worked through,” she says.
Another part of her work for the garden included pollinator awareness on campus.
“As an anthropology major, I wanted to know the people side of this. How do we change behavior?” asks King.
She says that she worked with different classes of students, doing focus groups, questionnaires and group activities surrounding pollinators and how people feel about them.
King says that this project was important to her because she learned that so much of our food is reliant on pollinators. “Every third bite you take, you needed a pollinator for it to exist,” says King.
“Your plate is going to look pretty boring if you don’t have bees and butterflies and all these pollinators.”
Like King, Serena Rudman, a junior communication disorders major, works in the garden also as an intern for the office. She’s a new intern and was hired at the beginning of the fall 2021 semester.
“I spend a majority of my time in the garden. I do food recovery as well once a week, and basically whatever [the Office of Sustainability] asks me to do, but it’s mostly the garden that’s the main place I work,” says Rudman.
Although Rudman was not focused on sustainability before working in the garden, she was taking Honors 300 with Huminski. Huminski reached out to her to intern. “[Huminski] taught us a lot about sustainability. Our Honors 300 class would go out to the garden and have our classes there and plant,” says Rudman. “I just found it really interesting, and she said if I wanted an internship the following year, I could.”
Gardening at home with her family was the most experience Rudman had with agriculture before interning for the Office of Sustainability and working in the garden. She says that it was Huminski’s passion and her experiences in her honors classes that sparked an interest in sustainable living.
Rudman says the garden on campus is essential, “It’s a community garden. It brings people together, especially with COVID and these hard times we had to be so separated,” she says. “The garden is a way to bring people together and they have something to look at, something to do. We have a lot of students that come here in between classes and they say it just makes them feel better.”
Both King and Rudman say that a lot of students on campus don’t know the garden is there, since it’s so far from the center.
“I had a lot of my classes in Davis and I didn’t even know it was there,” says Rudman. “But it’s a like a little break from reality. It’s nice. We encourage people all the time to come down and relax here.”
King says that it’s important for students to understand that the garden is always open during the growing season.
“[Students] can come here, they can walk around. We have raspberries—take a raspberry! This is here for us,” she says. “There’s Wi-Fi here so you can sit here and do your homework. We know the psychological benefits of being in green space,” she says.
Kathleen Griffin, a junior communication disorders major, was hired as an intern the same time as Rudman. Like Rudman and King, Griffin was introduced to the garden by Huminski during her honors classes. Griffin says she likes working in the garden because “it’s different than any other job on campus.”
Griffin says that people often ask her how she got started in the garden.
“We’ve done tours here and a lot of people say ‘how did you get started here? Communication disorders really isn’t focused on sustainability,’” she says. “It’s really my personal interest, it was nice to have [a job] that was separate from my major.”
As Griffin points out, students come to college focusing on experiences that benefit only their major. She said that it was important that she started working in the garden because it was something that didn’t directly correlate with her field of study.
“I feel like it really benefits you to go outside of your major and to get involved in other things that you can meet new people with different interests.”
The interns say that a lot of the work they do in the garden depends on what it needs.
“I water the garden, I plant some stuff, I clean up the area,” says Rudman.
She works in food recovery and does harvesting in the garden as well.
“We harvest food and send it off to different soup kitchens in New Haven.”
Griffin also works in food recovery and says that “the reason why we have this garden is, one, we want students to come here and volunteer,” says Griffin. “But also, all the produce that is grown here is donated. We work with partners like Gather New Haven and Urban Resources Initiative with the produce in the garden.”
During the long, cold, winter months, when all of the produce in the garden has died, Rudman says the interns may get to plant in the greenhouse. “There’s a chance that maybe we’ll experiment with that if it’s not being used by any other project.”
“The main priorities are weeding, and pest control,” says Griffin. “There’s a lot of pests in the garden that we have to make sure are not killing the plants.”
Refurbishing the pollinator pathway that King helped create with her Green Fund grant is another goal the interns are working towards. “There’s a lot of open space that we want to fill,” says Griffin. “We have to cut some things back for the winter and we’re planning some tabling events [in the garden] where people can come and check it out.”
Although there are no flyers or signs on campus that point students to the garden, Rudman tries to let as many students as possible know about it. “We want people to volunteer, we want people to enjoy the space, so I’ve been making an effort to let people know about it.”
Griffin agrees and adds that one of the most important jobs in the garden is spreading awareness. “We’ve done tours, INQ classes have come down- that’s raising awareness,” she says. During the Involvement Fair at the beginning of this semester, Griffin says that they had a table outside on the quad that got people involved. They had QR codes for students to scan and they advertised their Instagram account, @scsusustainability.
King says that the Office of Sustainability is always looking for volunteers to help in the garden. “You can always DM the Instagram page and say, ‘I have a break in between class from this time to this time, can I come down and do stuff in the garden?’ There’s never going to be a time where we don’t have anything for students to do,” she says.
Story by: Elizabeth Mercado