Students and community members can now dig up some dirt and contribute to the sustainability effort with a new community garden in the North University Park.
The 350-square-foot garden opened Thursday and is located at 3015 Shrine Place. It hopes to be a joint effort between the school and local residents and aims to help feed the hungry.
Student and staff volunteers, working closely with Sustainability Director Matthew Oden and the non-profit organization Urban Farming, manually dumped and raked soil Thursday, marking the first day of work on the garden.
Oden said the idea of a community garden has been in the works for a long time, but the impetus came when Urban Farming contacted the school, interested in starting an organic garden in unused space.
“It just happened to align when we were starting to think about a garden project,” Oden said.
Oden worked with John Baldo, the Undergraduate Student Government’s director of university outreach, to involve student groups, including Environment First and the California Public Interest Research Group. The students researched possibilities and ultimately came to an agreement with Urban Farming to start the project in the USC area.
Oden worked with the USC Real Estate & Asset Management Department to see which USC-owned properties around campus would be suitable for the project. They identified the property on Shrine Place as an area with a large enough yard for the garden.
3015 Shrine Place is owned by USC and is leased by the Department of Public Safety. The building is currently used as headquarters for the Contemporary Services Corporation guards, the security guards in yellow jackets that man various locations around campus.
USC Facilities Management Services gave Oden and his crew the tools needed to start the garden, such as shovels, wheelbarrows and cinderblocks to border the walls of the garden.
So far, Urban Farming has supplied all the necessary seeds and soil and has also contributed tools and volunteers.
Meg Glasser, West Coast regional manager for Urban Farming, will visit the garden every week in the upcoming months to oversee the project and teach USC and community volunteers how to keep the garden going.
Much of the student interest right now is from the few student organizations that have already been volunteering, Baldo said. But he hopes more volunteers will join over time.
“We definitely think a lot of people in the community are interested once we have it set up with signage,” Baldo said. “We’re just getting started now, but we have high hopes.”
Baldo said he hopes to work with the university to eventually integrate the garden into environmentally themed courses on campus.
Right now, the garden will focus on growing summer crops, such as tomatoes, basil and squashes. The ripe crops will be offered to the volunteers who helped grow them.
Eventually, Oden said, he wants to reach out to Tom Sayles, USC’s vice president of government and community relations, to distribute the food to the community.
“We don’t want to just give it away to people who have access to enough food and [are] already paying their bills,” Oden said. “So we’ll work to identify families that truly have the need for the food.”
Shana Rappaport, Green Office Program liaison for the Sustainability Office, started a similar garden outside her house on 30th Street. She said it has garnered a lot of attention from students and community members and hopes the same will happen with the garden on Shrine Place.
“When people actually see food growing out of the ground and get to put their hands in the plant and nurture that food, it’s a really beautiful thing and helps people feel reconnected to the process,” she said.
The next phase of the project, the planting of the seedlings, will take place on Thursday, March 4.