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Spotlight On: Otterbein Community Garden

The Otterbein University Community Garden has taken root to serve and educate the Otterbein and Westerville communities. The new garden, located at the Otterbein Center for Equine Studies, provides an innovative space for students and the community to participate in educational programs, the arts, and environmental initiatives. Otterbein is partnering with community groups including local food pantries, schools and organizations to establish numerous garden plots to meet community needs. Sustainable Westerville will help Otterbein coordinate the types of plants and vegetables that are needed, and the Westerville Area Resource Ministry (WARM) will help distribute harvests to families in need.

"This summer, we've contributed 138 pounds of produce to WARM and we're still harvesting," said Melissa Gilbert, director of Otterbein's Center for Community Engagement (CCE).

Programs for Otterbein and Westerville students are already underway. On Sept. 11, Otterbein students, faculty and staff worked in the garden as part of the University's New Student Weekend Community Plunge. This summer, Westerville City Schools hosted educational youth camps at the garden and Soil Rocks, a local youth leadership group, designed garden projects in the garden.

"We are educating Otterbein students, as well as students of Westerville City Schools, about the influence of hunger here in Westerville," said senior nursing major Lucas Homan, who is also the CCE student leader of garden initiatives. "These students will also have the chance to learn about sustainable community gardens, a topic and service that is growing greatly in this nation's government and communities."

Homan said Otterbein's work and influence this year is critical to the Community Garden's future. Some of the goals are to have active participation by Otterbein students, to maintain and increase support and involvement of Otterbein faculty and staff, and to create learning opportunities for Westerville City Schools' students. Other programs and projects have been slated for fall 2010 and spring 2011. Westerville's youth service group, Legacy, will be growing carrots, potatoes and other non-perishable produce for WARM. Otterbein and Westerville North High School students will work with residents from senior living facilities and garden clubs to learn sustainable gardening practices. Science students will study plants, soil, water, and animal life at the garden, while math students will focus on the geometry and economics of gardening. Bon Appétit, Otterbein's food service provider, will be gardening with Otterbein students to grow herbs and produce to raise funds to support the reseeding of the garden each year.

"I like how I can actually see my work turn into a product, and that product is directly sent out into the community to help aid victims of hunger," Homan said. "This project allows me to really see the affects of my work and it's for a cause that I truly believe in."

Otterbein has also created a SEEDS (Students Engaged in Ecological Development and Stewardship) program. According to Homan, SEEDS is a fellowship program through which students can commit to 300 hours of community service working in the Community Garden, and receive a $1,100 Segal AmeriCorps Education Award from the Students-in-Service AmeriCorps Program.

SEEDS students will provide an ongoing volunteer base and coordination of many garden programs. Volunteers from senior centers will help to maintain the gardens during the summer months. The garden will soon offer three raised beds built according to accessibility standards for gardeners with physical disabilities.

"Like any other classroom, the garden will grow its own narrative based on the students, faculty members, and community partners who occupy it," Gilbert said. "Our hope is to cultivate a learning landscape where students of every discipline can reconnect to the earth, situate their learning within an ecological framework, and serve our local community."

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