KOKOMO, Ind. — At first glance, the boxed in patch of earth behind the Carver Community Center just looks like a bunch of overgrown weeds, and nothing useful.
But when Leda Casey looks at it, she sees possibilities — along with a lot of work.
Casey, director of Indiana University Kokomo’s Office of Sustainability, led a group of volunteers recently who began the work of pulling and digging out the weeds by hand, hauling them away, and preparing the ground for planting tomatoes, peppers, and other vegetables for people in the community to use.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to partner with the community to promote sustainability,” she said. “It also promotes good nutrition, because people can come here to get fresh fruits and vegetables, which are an important part of a balanced diet.”
Casey added that students built the Carver Center garden a few years ago, using an IU sustainability grant, and another campus group built an oasis food pantry box for non-perishable items, which volunteers will repaint this summer. She hopes to have regular work days to continue working in the garden, planting, weeding, and helping harvest.
“Part of sustainability is you don’t just do a project and walk away,” she said. “It’s our responsibility when we start projects to see them through. We’re making the commitment to the Carver Center that we’re going to do this regularly. It’s important to me, and to the university.”
Donta Rogers, Carver Center executive director, was grateful for the continuing partnership with the campus, and for the volunteers, so he can plan educational programming for children during the summer months.
“We’ve done programming to have kids grow seeds, plant them in our garden, and then have vegetables they could take home to their parents,” he said. “The garden took a hit with volunteers not available because of COVID-19 in the last year, and sometimes we operate with short staff. We appreciate our partnership with IU Kokomo that helped us out.”
Sustainability intern Emma Watson was among the workers, shoveling out weeds into a wheelbarrow, and looking forward to helping plant vegetables. She said it’s important for the campus to do projects like this to benefit its community, since it is home to many students, faculty and staff.
“Sustainability doesn’t only encompass environmental concerns like recycling,” she said. “It also addresses food insecurity in communities. By doing this, and working with the food pantry, we’re able to provide nutrition to people who might not otherwise have access to fruits and vegetables.”
She plans to be an elementary teacher, and enjoys seeing the science of gardening at work, because it gives her ideas for her own future classroom.
Alissa Russell learned about the opportunity at the campus sustainability day, and decided to get involved. She enjoyed learning more about gardening, because she’s only worked in her family’s home garden before.
“I think we as students need to get involved in community service like this, to give back for what we’ve received as students here,” she said.