By XIN RAO and ERIN HOLLOWAY
Editor: MICHELLE DANNER
Among the events that our students experience in our program, the UPP service learning events each semester are the most important. This semester, there will be two. For the first service learning event of the spring semester, UPP collaborated with an urban community garden to expose students to this important concept and teach them about sustainability and helping others. The Wedge Garden was established in 2010 after a condemned house was destroyed, and the neighbors came together to plant vegetables in the empty lot. Over time, the Raleigh YMCA bought the land and rountiely sponsors volunteers to plant, harvest and either use or donate the vegetables, herbs or other plants in the community garden. The purpose of this event was for students to experience a new way to help the local community, learn basic gardening skills and their importance, be out in nature, and relax with friends. Shengyuan Li, one of our volunteers, said “It’s a good and very useful activity because we learned outside of the classroom.”
To help them think about the positive impacts they could make on communities, students first learned about the benefits of a community garden in an urban space before they arrived. These community gardens help filter rainwater, reduce air pollution, decrease stress, and can produce canmore food per acre than traditional farmland. The food is then often donated to churches and shelters. Community gardens also provide opportunities for immigrants and lower-income families to produce food that they may not otherwise have access to.
Sixty-two students, six interns and one staff member participated in this service learning event. We divided the students into six groups, so each shift had one intern assisting ten to fifteen students with helping out in the garden. Each team volunteered for one hour, and then switched to next shift. Wanmin Li, one of the participants, said “This is a great experience improving my strength and now I know how farms work.”
Each team handled a variety of tasks to help transform the garden into a vibrant and fertile land. By the end of the day, five areas that had been weed-ridden were cleared, tilled and fertilized. The students also prepared fourteen large trays of planted seeds, which could produce as many as 210 plants! Student teams also planted one plot with thirty seedlings, raked leaves, lined garden beds with bricks, built animal habitats out of bamboo sticks, painted marker rocks, cut gardening stakes and more!
Tracy Weidert, the volunteer coordinator of the Wedge Community Garden, assigned student groups their tasks throughout the event. The morning teams’ jobs from 9:00 am to 12:30 pm focused on cleaning, weeding, and shoveling new soil onto the plots. The afternoon teams from 1:30 pm to 5:00 pm helped plant new flowers and fruits.
“Actually my major is agricultural and science, so I am very glad that I can have this outdoor experience before I jump into class.” Another participant, Kai Deng, said. “This voluenteer job gives me a real hands-on job to practice.”
“The students were absolutely very helpful today,” Weidert later said. “This garden is one hundred percent volunteer run. So, it is great that so many of you came. Helping out to prepare these beds for the spring is going to be very helpful because at next week’s Service Raleigh, we are going to put more plants in the ground. A lot of work has been done beforehand to get everything ready. It is a lot of work! I am very glad you guys could come and help us!”
We couldn’t be more proud of all the hard work the students completed for the Raleigh community. Students were invited to take some seedlings home with them, or pick from the herb garden to cook with later. UPP staff will follow up with the garden as well, so students can literally taste the fruits of their labor once their seeds and seedlings bear fruit!
Students are also welcome to return to the garden any time they wish. Considering it is walking distance from NC State’s campus, we hope this event was the beginning of some students investing more time and energy into growing food for themselves and the community!