Green thumbs for a green movement

Originally published in The Daily Iowan 4/24/2009

UI President Sally Mason strolled through the university’s new sustainable garden Thursday afternoon, taking about an hour of her day to talk with students who helped create it.

Mason said she’s “very pleased” with the UI Environmental Coalition’s work to make the new garden a reality. “This is just fabulous,” she said.

The new garden — built in part to serve the IMU Food Service with organic produce — is the latest in several university sustainability efforts — which, UI officials said, they will continue despite budget cuts.

Food Service manager Richard Geer said he also hopes some of the produce will be sold directly to the students through a farmers’ market.

Officials realized they needed a new student garden after the last one — near North Hall — didn’t flourish because of a lack of sunlight. Garden manager and UI graduate student Adam Perkins said it was difficult to teach students how to grow their own food in such a plot.

“So we lobbied with the administration to find a different place to operate,” he said.

UI Director of Sustainability Liz Christiansen said the key to the garden’s creation was the Environmental Coalition’s claim of responsibility over the project.

“If anything were to happen to the hoop-house here or any damage to the garden itself, we’d have a responsible party,” she said.

The hoop-house is a movable greenhouse that will be able to shift the climate of the plants 500 miles south, keeping them growing when they are out of season, said Greg Garbos, designer and engineer with Kansas City, Mo.-based company Four Season Tools.

“You’re getting so much more value out of the structure by being able to move it,” he said.
Sustainability has become a new field for engineers over the last couple of years to answer the greater demand for a smaller carbon footprint. Next year, a new engineering class will start to teach students about different sustainable energy systems.

The new garden is another way UI officials plan to reduce the university’s carbon footprint. The garden is sustainable given its use of fertilization materials from the Iowa City landfill and promise of manually operated upkeep.

“A lot of agriculture companies are really focused on big scale agriculture with chemicals,” Garbos said.

Perkins said he hopes this new garden will serve as an example for the rest of Iowa.


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