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VCU celebrates Earth Day with open house at Monroe Park Campus Learning Garden

The new Monroe Park Campus Learning Garden at Virginia Commonwealth University will host an open house ahead of Earth Day.

The open house will be held from 10 a.m. to noon on April 21 at 1218 Parkwood Ave. The event is free and open to the VCU community and the public. Tours and light refreshments will be provided, and people can volunteer on-site to help plant trees and berry bushes between 11 a.m. and noon.

The Office of Sustainability hosts an open house at the Monroe Park Campus Learning Garden Thursday, April 21.
The Office of Sustainability hosts an open house at the Monroe Park Campus Learning Garden Thursday, April 21.

“Gardening can be intimidating for people, especially those who have had limited experience working outdoors – or a bad experience working outdoors,” said Hannah Wittwer, learning garden coordinator at VCU’s Office of Sustainability. “My hope is that the open house will offer a very low-pressure, casual opportunity to get more information on the garden.”

Overseen by the Office of Sustainability, the garden is dedicated to growing a high yield of familiar produce for the RamPantry student food pantry, as well as community partners. Patients at the Center for High Blood Pressure and residents of New Clay House, a Virginia Supportive Housing community serving those who have experienced homelessness, will receive – and have the opportunity to harvest – produce from the garden.

We’re also looking at developing easy-to-follow recipes using the produce that we’re growing.

We’re trying to combat food insecurity through availability of fresh, local produce,” said Erin Stanforth, director of sustainability at VCU. “All produce that is planted will be donated. We’re also looking at developing easy-to-follow recipes using the produce that we’re growing.”

The townhouse-size plot features eight raised beds, four vertical gardening structures, dozens of large coffee bags growing potatoes, a small greenhouse and even a house for Mason bees. Development of the garden began last fall with the help of a VCU Council for Community Engagement grant and donation of the land from VCU Parking and Transportation.

Wittwer said the garden will also serve as a model for urban gardeners, who often face limited space and resources. Many of the materials and plants for the garden have been recycled, reused or donated by community partners and businesses.

Vertical garden structures have been built from old pallets and containers. There is also a Mason bee house at the garden, seen at right.
Vertical garden structures have been built from old pallets and containers. There is also a Mason bee house at the garden, seen at right.

“We are experimenting with our new space and trying to figure what will work and what won't work with our space. This is what gardening is all about, especially in an urban setting,” Wittwer said. “Our hope is that those who come to the garden will leave feeling like producing your own food in an urban setting is not only possible, but can be relatively inexpensive and very fun.”

Recycled coffee bags have been pressed into use as containers to grow potatoes.
Recycled coffee bags have been pressed into use as containers to grow potatoes.

“We hope that urban gardeners or almost-urban-gardeners feel inspired to start a garden of their own, knowing that the learning garden is a resource that they can tap into for experience and information,” she said.

It is the second learning garden developed at VCU; the first is a community garden with rentable plots on the MCV Campus.

“We’re proud to raise awareness, and show the fruits of our labor coming to life,” Stanforth said.

 

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