Most students go to the Rec to get in a quick workout, but a select few know to head to the back parking lot to visit the ever-growing VU Community Garden.
Students Promoting Environmental Awareness and Responsibility (SPEAR) members Reilly Menchaca and Maya Sandel started the garden last year after the Sustainability and Environmental Management Office (SEMO) approached them to revitalize the garden. The garden was formerly run by SEMO and Vanderbilt Plant Operations, but hadn’t been kept up in recent years.
So far, the main event this year has been Adopt-a-Plant, a program in which students can take plants back to their dorm, “parent” them and then replant them back into the garden. Junior Noa Worob adopted a mint plant this year following her participation in last year’s program, when she raised a pea plant.
“When I came home and saw a little bit of green sticking out, I got so excited. I didn’t think I had a green thumb, but this proved to me that everyone has a green thumb,” Worob said.
VU Community Garden encourages participation from all students, regardless of previous gardening experience. For example, Sandel and Menchaca had no prior experience in the world of garden maintenance, Menchaca said. A variety of Vanderbilt community members, such as Associate Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences Dan Morgan, gave them gardening advice and helped them understand the hurdles the unusual climate Tennessee provides. They’ve also collaborated with other organizations such as the American Society of Civil Engineers who aided them in building trellises.
When Menchaca and Sandel began the garden reboot, the planting team included them and two other students. The team has grown into weekly gardening sessions that range between 15 and 20 students, and an Instagram.
Vice President of VU Community Garden Fehintola Agboola, who was among the four original planters, immediately saw much potential for the future of this community-driven initiative, she said. She credits much of the success of the garden to the drive of Sandel and Menchaca.
“You can’t ever say no to them,” Agboola said.
VU Community Garden’s team is planning to host more events to increase student-wellbeing and engagement with the garden itself. Current initiatives such as “Planting Palooza,” where old and new volunteers collaborate to tend the garden, and other events such as a planned pumpkin carving event and garden mediation aim to appeal to students of all interest and experience levels. Outside the garden, the organization plans to begin a community beehive project.
One unexpected theme arises when chatting about the garden with multiple students: happiness. A number of students who have recently gotten involved in gardening spoke about how getting down and dirty in the soil leads to real mental benefits.
“Helping take care of things helps you take care of yourself,” senior Garvey Gregory said.