By Abigail Hollander
On Saturday, Octopus’s Garden united faculty, staff and students to help learn the art of planting potatoes. Embodying their inner-earthbound farmers, the Dutchmen have transformed a place formerly used for sunbathing and Frisbee to a sanctuary designed to supply the campus and surrounding communities with fresh, organic produce.
Connie Schmitz, the Dutchmen’s resident horticulturalist, stood among the beds eager to begin planting the day’s crops, thrilled with the outcome of willing community volunteers. The idea to create a garden that would supply Union and the surrounding Schenectady community with organic produce originated in 2006, and in 2007 a group of faculty, students and staff got together to determine the logistics of the project.
Ms. Schmitz said they were looking for “a place on campus suitable to the administration and suitable to us.” Located in between the Wells and McKean Houses, the beds rest on the sunny, southern side of campus. The garden has tripled in size since the spring of 2008. David Sanders ‘09 constructed a beautiful garden shed in 2009, using entirely green techniques, including straw for insulation.
Octopus’s Garden is funded primarily through Dining Services, which has consistently provided starter plants, seeds, tools and compost to promote the sustainability of the Union community. The Dutchmen farmers also received financial help from Union’s Green Grant program, which provides funding to sustainability projects that are feasible for the Union campus and community.
The Green Grant entirely funded the underground water system and allowed Octopus’s Garden to purchase rain barrels, which collect rainwater to water the plants. In 2012, Octopus’s Garden began working with Campus Kitchens to help deliver the produce to the Schenectady Food Pantry.
The purpose of the garden is to improve the campus’s sustainability and to help make the campus aware of environmentally friendly practices. Some of the crops are harvested and used for Friday lunches at Ozone Café or O3 in Reamer.
“I think it’s a venue to teach people how to lower their Carbon Footprints. I am hoping to help faculty, staff and students learn how to garden, so they can take those practices home,” Ms. Schmitz said as she overlooked the tilled beds. Along with providing sustainability morals, the garden provides a channel through which the campus community can come together and help their surrounding community. Although planting requires some sweat, it is a great way to take advantage of the beautiful spring weather. So don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and volunteer to help plant the remaining crops this Saturday!