UVA Garden Initiative Introduction
“Agriculture is a science of the first order…It counts among its handmaids the most respected sciences, such as Chemistry, Natural History, Botany. In every College and University, a professorship of agriculture, and the class of its students, might be honored as first.”
Sustainability is an essential activity in any university that wants to be useful in the next generation.”
– John T. Casteen III, President, University of Virginia
A garden is not simply a cultivated patch of earth.
A garden is a classroom.
When Thomas Jefferson imagined his ideal Academical Village at the University of Virginia, he emphasized the importance of agriculture in higher education. Jefferson himself used his gardens as a living laboratory, where he experimented with 330 different vegetables and 170 fruit varieties.
But today, many children don’t know an eggplant from a zucchini, the dinner table has been replaced by the drive-thru, and food often travels thousands of miles before it reaches our plates. We have become utterly disconnected with nature, and along with it, we are losing simple joys like biting into a ripe tomato picked off the vine.
The garden provides a hands-on environment where students learn to grow vegetables, fruits, and herbs-but more importantly, they cultivate a knowledge of sustainable practices which will preserve the future of our earth. Professors will have the opportunity to bring their students to the garden to conduct research, study agriculture, ecology, history, anthropology, politics, and more- not with textbooks, but with trowels and tomatoes.
A garden is a bridge. Between swapping seeds, recipes, and home cooked meals, food has a way of bringing people together. By providing fresh, organic produce to local food shelters and low income families, A UVA community garden will serve as a vital link between the University and Charlottesville community. Forging ties with the student-run volunteer center, Madison House, will allow students to bring their little siblings or adopted grandparents to experience the joys of gardening. Local elementary schools will have the opportunity to visit the garden and learn where their food comes from.
Furthermore, the garden will serve as a link between Jefferson’s agricultural ideal and the University’s mission towards sustainability. Jefferson was one of the first to realize that the bounties of the earth are finite, and was instrumental in the development of basic agricultural practices, such as crop rotation. Today the University upholds Jefferson’s ideal by exploring new ways to practice sustainability in an age of environmental crisis. Not only will the garden be free of damaging pesticides, but it will convert much of the University’s waste into fertile compost, as well as reduce carbon emissions involved in transporting food across long distances. Clearly, a garden is not just a source of fresh food, but it is a link between the young and old, the past and present, and the student with the earth.
Finally, a garden is a retreat. In our fast food nation, a garden is a place to slow down, roll up our sleeves, and dig into the earth. This living, breathing model of sustainability awakens our senses and brings us back to our agricultural roots. As we tend to Jefferson’s heirloom varieties of Brandywine Tomato, Carolina Lima Bean, and Jersey Wakefield Cabbage, we are reviving our bodies as well as Virginia’s diverse food heritage.
Now is the time to establish a University Community Garden, as it is a sustainable means to teach, unite, and restore. But before we can reap the benefits, all we ask for is a cultivated patch of earth with which we can sow the seeds.