Whether looking to start a career in environmental sustainability or simply seeking an outlet to reconnect with the earth, William & Mary students, faculty, staff and community members have long had a space to exercise their ecological curiosities: the campus garden.
What began as a Dining Services and Student Environmental Action Coalition project in 2007, was adopted by the Committee on Sustainability for continuity and improved upon by Green Fee grants. It has since sprouted into a center of community on campus. This year, the Office of Sustainability and Facilities Management are working together to bring that community’s base to its newest location, a plot of land behind Dupont Hall.
“It’s something for people with a green thumb who want to get away from the brick buildings for some time,” said Sarah Snipes ’21, William & Mary student majoring in Geology and Environmental Science. As one of the garden’s student managers, Snipes coordinates the ‘garden interns’ who help maintain the garden and organize community activities. Snipes described her participation as evolving from an on-campus job seemingly compatible with her major to an opportunity to get connected with the environment and community.
“The garden gives you a chance to connect with the outdoors and get more in tune with the earth,” she said. “It makes you ask yourself, ‘what is the environment? Why does the soil matter? How long does it take for something to grow?’”
The garden offers numerous members of the William & Mary community the opportunity to engage in this reflection, as 24 plots are rented out to interested gardeners or curious learners.
“The garden is an opportunity to bring a blend of people together around an activity related to sustainability,” said Director of Sustainability Calandra Waters Lake. Having overseen the space’s development and the students’ work for several years, Lake described witnessing the garden’s diverse functions.
“It connects all different types of gardeners, students who want to get outside, and even faculty performing research projects,” she said.
Lake described the goal of the campus garden as twofold: encouraging community and enlivening wellness. Events like community-wide garden work days unite everyone from gardeners to Girl Scouts to maintain environmental sustainability on William & Mary’s campus. The garden also enhances wellness by providing a source of locally-grown food and a place to connect with the environment, Lake described.
“The garden lets you be outside and get your hands in the soil,” she said. “Sustainability is not only about the environment. It’s about the social and environmental factors, and how those blend together.”
This summer, this opportunity for connection between students, the community, and the environment will be taken to new heights. An unanticipated need to move the garden from its original space behind Commons Dining Hall is turning into an opportunity for growth. Because Facilities Management is engaging in work that could affect the garden, they are sponsoring its transfer to behind Dupont Hall.
“We’re happy to see this happen,” said Lake. “Behind Dupont Hall is a communal space, with the volleyball pit and the student dorm right there. We were already looking for ways to improve the garden, so this worked out well.”
As the Office of Sustainability and Facilities Management works to finalize water flow from Dupont Hall to the garden, the garden’s reopening is anticipated for this May. Applications for rentals will be opening soon for community members to build the garden’s newest iteration.
According to Lake, the garden’s new location has the potential to bring the power of sustainability to even more students.
“The garden shows that sustainability to accessible to everyone,” she said. “All students can connect with nature on campus and connect with people who have similar interests.”
For Snipes, the opportunity to garden has allowed her to connect with her surroundings, whether they be her fellow community members or the earth, itself.“If you don’t garden, you might not think about things like how the rain affects you. But, rain is really important. It grows plants,” she said. “The garden makes me more aware of my surroundings and helps me build a community with other people and a relationship with the environment.”