Environmentality: Behind the VU Community Garden

The garden is one of many sustainable initiatives underway to help Vanderbilt reach a zero-waste goal by 2030


Claire Barnett

Photo by Claire Barnett // Vanderbilt Hustler

Kailey Newcome

Vanderbilt has many different sustainable initiatives underway to reach their zero-waste goal by 2030. They’ve implemented electric car charging stations, increased the amount and visibility of composting sites around campus and have even added different meat alternatives, such as the famous Impossible Burger, which have much smaller carbon footprints that their meaty counterparts. Perhaps the most interesting sustainable program to start has been the VU Community Garden.

The community garden is not new to Vanderbilt’s Campus. In fact, the garden was started three years ago by a former student who was passionate about gardening. He and a few friends planted different vegetables, maintained the garden and even attempted to start a bee colony. Unfortunately, once the students graduated, the garden was not kept up. It became dilapidated and overgrown, and remained untouched until this school year.

The Sustainability and Environmental Management Office reached out to SPEAR to help revitalize the garden. Two sophomore members, Maya Sandel and Reilly Menchaca, volunteered to lead the project. Little did they know how quickly interest in the garden would grow. Within just a few months, they’ve renovated the entire garden, equipped it with running water and created a following of over 500 students on Instagram and even more through GroupMe. They also hosted their first event, Adopt-a-Plant, in which they gave out 30 pea seeds and 60 radish seeds, all of which were organic, to students and faculty members to take care of for a few weeks. The event was so successful that the two leaders actually ran out of seeds. The seeds will later be “trans-planted” back into the garden to finish their blooming process and be harvested later this year.

Sandel and Menchaca have been thrilled with how the garden has turned out. “The garden is a space for all kinds of different organizations, students, faculty and other community members to come together and grow a deeper attachment to the environment,” said Sandel. “We really want the community to feel like the garden is theirs, to take ownership of it and take care of it.”

“We hope that with this more tangible and hands-on experience, people will get a better understanding of why it’s important to take care of the environment,” said Menchaca. It can even help people to better understand why climate change is an issue and see how they can help change it.”

The community garden has many new developments underway, including registering the group as an official student organization. They also hope to partner with other student organizations and gain more publicity to increase involvement at the garden so that once the two girls graduate, the garden won’t fall victim to the same fate as before.

For those that do want to get involved, the community garden is hosting their big “Trans-Planting” event on April 10th at 3 p.m. They’ll be replanting the pea and radish plants into the garden, harvesting grown vegetables and fruits and providing snacks to munch on while gardening and mingling. Sandel and Menchaca also encourage students and/or faculty to reach out to them if they would like to get more involved. The two can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected].