By India Nunn, ’23
When students returned to campus for the fall 2020 semester, a waft of remembrance filled the air as they walked past the Terrace Garden behind the library. In honor of the indigenous peoples that originally inhabited and cultivated these lands, plants first domesticated in the Americas were budding to a harvest. Corn reached for the skies, as beans wrapped themselves around their stalks attempting to reach such heights with them. A green carpet of squash leaves filled the ground beneath the corn sisters. The dazzling red amaranth waved its fuzzy branches in the early fall breeze.
The main focus of the Terrace Garden is education. Each year the garden takes on a different theme in order to teach students about various sustainable growing methods, as well as highlight crops specific to a geographic region or people. Students enrolled in the Agroecology course taught by Eleanor Tison develop the design and theme for this space each spring.
This past 2020 growing season the Terrace garden focused on the biodiversity of indigenous Americans. Therefore, plants such as squash, amaranth, hot peppers, and other crops domesticated in the Americas were included in this space.
The luscious vegetation that fills the terraced garden almost hides Eleanor Tison as she waters the plants that are grateful to have their thirst quenched. Tison has been the director of the campus gardens and compost system since 2019. With her radiant, sunny disposition and flowing golden curls, she cares for both the garden and the students who labor with her by implementing agroecological concepts emphasizing sustainability.
Currently, there are three active garden sites on campus, which include the Terrace, Village, and Healing Gardens. Each site has a specific focus and atmosphere that adds to the energy of the space. Despite their variety, all the gardens have a consistent mission as campus spaces. They are student-directed gardens that strive to educate participants about sustainable small-scale growing methods, provide areas of peace and refuge, as well as increase student food security and nutrition.
The Village Garden is where the compost is currently located, directly behind the Student Activity Center. Previously named the McClintock garden after the famous geneticist Barbara McClintock, the garden has been renamed in order to emphasize the location and highlight its intended purpose. This space is mostly dedicated to producing food for students, whether they live on or off campus.
Serving students nutritionally is only one manner in which the gardens contribute to their overall well-being. The Healing Garden, located next to the Crossroads Café, is a space devoted to providing a peaceful refuge and calming atmosphere. Mint, rosemary, chives, yarrow, dill, oregano, and other pleasing aromas immerse the senses. The seating provided in this garden invites students to bring their minds into a meditative state while studying, reading, or soaking up the sun.
As spaces designed and led by students themselves, the gardens provide what Tison describes as “living laboratories,” where each generation of students can experiment and take ownership of the spaces. Any student is welcome to enter the gardens to select the products they need. However, it is integral that visitors pay attention to the signs at the gardens, which indicate what is currently ready to be harvested.
Compost is the vital organ of the campus gardens and the foundation of their functionality, production, and health. Food scraps are collected twice a week from residents of the Village, the Crossroads Café, and the Americorp office, which contributes food donations that have passed their prime. Bryanna Hopple, the passionate student director of the campus compost states, “I hate seeing food go to waste because it isn’t waste. It’s kind of like food fertilizer.” The nutrient-rich, brilliantly black product that remains after decomposition serves exactly that purpose. Finished compost is added to the campus gardens, increasing soil fertility and thus the health of the growing plants.
All academic programs are encouraged to consider how these spaces can be incorporated into other educational paths offered at Prescott College. For example, the Care Farming course this Fall will bring together agriculture and psychology in order to emphasize the healing that gardening can invoke.
If you are looking to get involved with the garden and compost systems, there are many opportunities available. Whether you would like to apply for a work-study position, volunteer during your free time, or attend a workday on the third Sunday of each month, the best place to start is by reaching out to Eleanor Tison is the best place to start. Any form of participation supports the gardens and compost systems, which not only contributes to the greater good of the College, but also to the larger community by providing examples of the benefits we can reap by engaging with our local food systems.