Octopus’s Garden volunteers dedicate time to lending a hand to the hungry


By Heather Mendiola

Octopus’s Garden, Union’s on-campus, all-organic garden, is an example of what the Union community can accomplish.

Octopus’s Garden, founded in 2008, is still a growing project, thanks to the help of students, faculty and staff.

The garden has more than doubled in size and production since six years ago, when the project began.

The garden has won numerous awards and grants and has become widely recognized as a centerpiece of Union’s sustainability efforts.

Annually, the garden produces roughly 1,000 to 1,500 pounds of crops, comprised of organic fruits and vegetables.

Octopus’s Garden provides a source of organic food for Ozone Café, an event run each Friday during common lunch by Ozone House, an environmentally focused theme house on campus.

The garden was started in 2008 by two students who wanted a way to grow and eat organic food on campus.

Octopus’s Garden is always looking for students, faculty and staff to volunteer their time to help plant, maintain and harvest the garden’s crops.

The garden has many work hours available throughout the fall and spring terms, but not so many during winter term, as the snow on the ground hampers the amount of work that can be done.

This year, the garden changed many of the vegetables being grown to root veggies that would be mostly harvested in the fall.

Previously the garden grew vegetables that required a lot of harvesting in the summer, when there were few students to help with the harvest.

Octopus’s Garden is not run by any club or organization; it is completely volunteer based, but would be nothing without the help of Connie Schmitz, the garden coordinator.

Schmitz won the 2010 Unitas Award for contributions to the campus and community, and she was named the Kenney Center “Volunteer of the Week” in October 2012.

Octopus’s Garden is working on developing a recruitment system that it can use for years to come and will continue to draw in different groups, clubs and faculty to become involved with the garden.

During school terms the food that isn’t used by Dining Services and Ozone Café is given to Campus Kitchens, a student-led organization that produces 150 meals a week to help combat hunger in Schenectady.

In the summer, the food is donated to the Schenectady Food Pantry, run by the Schenectady Inner City Mission.

This past week, volunteers at the garden were edging, which means skimming off the roots of weeds around the entire garden and the beds inside.

Currently, the garden’s volunteers are simultaneously harvesting crops like potatoes, onions, garlic, lettuce and, soon, carrots, while also preparing the garden for winter.

On Tuesday, Wells House came out and supplied volunteers to help out around the garden, joined by myself and Ram Batta ’15, who managed Octopus’s Garden Club last year.

The Octopus Garden is no longer classified as a “club.”

Octopus’s Garden is now starting to reach out to different clubs, theme houses, sports teams and academic departments to set up work days with those organizations so the garden can gain more diverse involvement on campus than just its typical set of volunteers.

Many people on campus don’t know that this garden exists or what its purpose is, so the garden is trying to reach out to more people and educate them that this project does exist, what its purpose is and how beneficial it has been for the Union and Schenectady communities.

“Helping out at Octopus’s Garden is something that I always look forward to. It allows us to teach the Union community about organic and sustainable growing, which is not something that is easily practiced on your own while living in a dorm setting,” said Sarah Neely ’15.

“Educational component aside, helping out at the garden can be a really fun and relaxing experience. Additionally, as a member of Ozone House, it is satisfying to be able to play a role in the planting, upkeep and harvesting of food that is ultimately incorporated into a delicious meal and served to the campus community at Ozone Café.”

At the moment, Octopus’s Garden is in a transitional state.

While it has established itself as a vital component of Union’s sustainability efforts and has developed a regular and productive crop rotation, it is nonetheless still evolving.

Throughout its history, the garden has thrived on new ideas and new directions.

The garden hopes to continue its evolutionary efforts.

Anyone interested in contributing ideas or getting their hands dirty by helping with garden upkeep can send emails to octopusgarden@union.edu or mendiolh@union.edu.


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