News & Events Learning Garden promotes healthier community

A splash of brilliant orange has been spotted recently in the Learning Garden, which sits on a quiet, inconspicuous hill on the south side of the art building at Columbia Gorge Community College. In the past, students, staff and faculty have passed by on their way to wherever they’re going, not really noticing, or perhaps thinking the small plot is not much of a going concern, wondering who put it there and what it’s for. Learning Garden

At the beginning of spring, the Learning Garden was mostly forgotten. Weeds had choked the raised garden beds and the soil was so dry only the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) thrived. The leftover barrels of water had become stagnant. But as the weather warmed and interest in gardening blossomed, the Learning Garden began to get the attention it deserved. After a few weeks of organized and independent effort, gardening progress is apparent: the big white barrels are full of fresh water, the compost pallets have been repaired, nine raised beds have been weeded and turned and seeds have begun to germinate.

The idea behind the Learning Garden is simple yet profound—gardens change communities. To accomplish this purpose, several goals were created for the Learning Garden (see below: Goals of the Learning Garden). The following is the idea: exposure to foods that go from garden to plate develops one’s awareness of the difference in taste and nutrition of locally grown food. Furthermore, working alongside others in this venture creates new relationships and strengthens existing ones, as gardeners share knowledge, ideas and skills. The abundance of food grown in excess in the Learning Garden may also be given to a local food bank, which helps the community. The lush growth and diversity of plants adds much to the beauty of the surrounding area, and the experience of working with the soil teaches more than horticulture skills—it underscores our interconnection with the environment we share with all life.

The Learning Garden’s small size may be its biggest asset. Most people can find the time to tend one small garden bed, and for so little effort see how much food can be produced in 20 square feet. Flowers can be coddled into beautiful bouquets for a dinner table in exchange for a few minutes of fresh air and a little exercise. Keeping it simple and relatively small takes the overwhelming aspect out of gardening, effectively encouraging more gardens to pop up throughout the community.

Another aspect of the Learning Garden is the composting system, located conveniently between the growing beds. Selective kitchen scraps and other organic materials are broken down into nutritious fertilizer that is returned to the soil, benefiting garden and gardener. The rules for using the composting area are clearly posted and easy to understand.

Anyone associated with the college can sign up for a garden bed and grow whatever they would like. Currently, three members of staff, two students and one student/staff member are caring for the garden. The beds contain vegetables including corn, zucchini, cucumbers and winter squash as well as herbs such as basil and cilantro. Fruits planted include tomatoes, peppers and strawberries. In addition, many varieties of flowers are planted as companions, including marigolds, poppies, sunflowers, dianthus and a rose, which has blooms the color of a brilliant sunset.

Depending on ongoing interest in this unique garden, a future expansion could provide a number of benefits. With the high cost of fresh produce, growing even a little of one’s own food is a great way to supplement an income. Many are amazed at the opportunities for connection, knowledge and personal growth that can be gained with just a few seeds and a handful of earth. In the environmentally conscious Pacific Northwest, reducing waste by composting and using less energy with low food miles makes gardening a useful and desirable skill. And in this light, it seems fitting that the garden should be within sight of the new renewable energy technology building.

The Learning Garden is worth a visit. Stop by to view the flowers and the different varieties of foods. You’re welcome to ask questions about hosting your own garden or reserving a raised bed. With all that the garden has to offer, it’s easy to see that the future of the Learning Garden looks as bright as the orange marigolds that grace its beds.

Goals of the Learning Garden

  • Increase students’ access to fresh, local, sustainable and nutritious fruits and vegetables
  • Beautify the campus and create a safe, communal gathering place
  • Foster student leadership
  • Foster entrepreneurial skills and forge business-community ties by marketing and selling surplus produce
  • Provide students with valuable work experience in agriculture and horticulture
  • Build strong community ties and increase social interaction and civic participation
  • Encourage student self-reliance
  • Increase self-esteem, self-confidence, and education of students
  • Promote healthier communities
  • Demonstrate the benefits of organic farming and environmentally sound horticultural practices
  • Provide teachers and students a resource on ecological systems, garden care, landscaping principles, watering and plant maintenance

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