Students ‘working with nature’ at garden

This semester, the Growing Sustainability in the Student Garden class, taught by Christian Ryan-Downing, is growing a garden at the University Farm. The garden covers an acre and a half and uses shredded paper as mulch.

Katherine Wade

Students are getting the chance to exercise their green thumb at the University Farm’s student garden.

A course taught through the WKU Institute for Citizenship and Social Responsibility teaches students about aspects of sustainable and organic gardening such as plant science, soil health, and pest, water and time management, according to the ICSR website.

The class, called Growing Sustainably in the Student Garden, is taught by WKU Sustainability Coordinator Christian Ryan-Downing.

Ryan-Downing said WKU has an acre and a half for the garden, which it’s trying to develop for future students to use as well. There’s an orchard with blueberries, blackberries and strawberries, and a plot currently being groomed for seasonal vegetables.

They do not use any pesticides in the garden, Ryan-Downing said.

Louisville senior Hannah Morris, a member of the class, said she loves getting to take a break from regular classes and spend the day in the dirt.

“It just feels really good to be outside,” Morris said. “There is something primal and rewarding in learning how to use the land respectively. I think people are drawn to it because you are working with nature in a beautiful way.”

Ryan-Downing said Morris was the one who came up with the idea for the class, received a grant from the Student Government Association and got permission to develop the plot at the farm.

The members of the class range from the knowledgeable to those totally inexperienced in agriculture.

Louisville senior Joey Coe, another member of the class, said this class was his first foray into farming and gardening.

Ryan-Downing said Coe is continually amazed by what they do in the garden.

“He is constantly saying things like, ‘I can’t believe we can grow food!’” she said.

Coe said he is interested in environmental issues and believes learning how to produce food sustainably can help with those issues.

In addition to working in the garden, the class involves readings and discussions about sustainable agriculture, as well as the occasional guest speaker.

Novella Carpenter, an author and urban farmer from Oakland, Calif., will be visiting WKU on April 13 to speak about her experience and sign her book, “Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer.”

Morris said Carpenter’s book is “wonderfully written.”

“I’m kind of nervous about meeting her, but I’m really excited,” Morris said.

Before her speech at 7 p.m., Ryan-Downing and her class are going to take Carpenter out to dinner and to see the student garden.

Ryan-Downing said she thinks Carpenter will be a great match for what the students are interested in.

“Novella’s really awesome, and I think she’s going to give a really good talk,” she said. 

Ryan-Downing encouraged other students and members of the community to check out the garden, especially on April 23, when they are having a volunteer day. “Anyone can come out and get their hands in the dirt,” she said. “We’ll all be there to help, and we love to have people join us on the farm.”