Urban gardens getting ready to pop up around campus


Community pop-up gardens are taking root again, thanks to a passionate gardening corps on a variety of missions. This spring, at least seven city gardens are planted around campus, as well as the campus farm at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

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Need plants for your own garden?  Stop by the Matthaei Botanical Gardens for its annual starter plant sale on May 16-17. On sale will be vegetables, kitchen favorite herbs and flower baskets.

Go to the Matthaei website for directions, hours, volunteer opportunities and more information about community gardening.

An urban gardening trend started about a decade ago when Michigan Dining chefs created small herb gardens near loading docks for university eateries, then branched out to bigger urban plots. Word caught on, and the idea for more community gardens spread like wildfire.

“Gardens are great team builders, and they feed curiosity. Some volunteers have never gardened, but they want camaraderie or a way to serve their community,” said Catriona Mortell-Windecker, outreach program coordinator at Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

Crops from the campus farm will be sold at local summer farmers markets. Other gardens — at East Quad, Elbel Field, Michigan Hillel and the School of Public Health — are demonstrations of hobby, food justice or sustainable food chains, which feed the local economy and appetites for inexpensive, healthy produce.

Others have even more specific purposes. The School of Dentistry garden, now in its second year, has become an idea incubator for enhancing oral health. As part of the study, students and faculty sort the flowers and vegetables by continental origin. They invite the public to help themselves (in moderation) at harvest time. What’s left is used for a season-end potluck celebration.

Another example is the Friends Meditation Garden grown by students and volunteers at the U-M Health System. With sculptures and a water fountain, it is specifically designed to provide an outdoor space of comfort and respite for patients, visitors and staff.

Students and volunteers from Cultivating Community plant the annual Ginsberg Center Garden. (Photo courtesy of the Ginsberg Center)

Going into its eighth season, the veteran urban garden on campus is at the Edward Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning, located on the corner of Hill Street and East University Avenue. A student group, Cultivating Community from the Matthaei Botanical Gardens, launched it to promote food-system awareness. Grown with organic gardening methods, the plants are used for many projects, ranging from educational canning workshops to charitable giving.

Each year, the Ginsberg Center provides gardening supplies and the plot, which is land at a premium. Many curious visitors stop to admire the beautiful herb spiral and rows of seasonal vegetables, including corn, cucumbers, eggplant, kale, lettuce, onions, sunflowers, squash, five pepper varieties and various tomatoes.

“This garden not only produces delicious vegetables, but also raises awareness for food access and sustainability, which connects deeply to social justice and the Ginsberg Center mission. We’re so proud to be a part of it,” said Abby Fanelli, assistant director of the Ginsberg Center.


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