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Students ‘Cultivate’ Produce for Belmont Community

cultivate garden -0103-LWhen Associate Dean for Performance Studies Jeff Kirk left campus Thursday afternoon, he drove by Compton Avenue where students handed him a crate of spinach, squash and lettuce, which his wife used to make lettuce wraps for dinner.

“I am sure happy I did. I am happy to know we can get fresh, organic vegetables once a week, and the price is much cheaper than the grocery store,” Kirk said. “This is another way Belmont is taking care of us and the community as well.”

This summer junior Brett Wisse and senior Johnathan West revived Belmont’s garden through Enactus, an organization that brings together student, academic and business leaders committed to using the power of entrepreneurial action to improve the quality of life and standard of living for people in need. Wisse and West have invested $2,000 building eight raised beds and an aqua pond to start new crops in the garden, which they have named Cultivate.

Although the garden has been on Belmont’s campus for several years, it hasn’t consistently produced a harvest as students graduate and leave campus for the summer. The garden was born in 2008 when Chemistry Professor Kimberlee Daus’ honors analytics class did chemistry tests on soil in a vacant lot and researched what types of plants would grow there. A first-year seminar class built rock beds and did initial planting in 2009. Two years later, the University formed a partnership with the Dismas House, and students in Adjunct Instructor Charmion Gustke’s first-year service learning and English 1010 classes used their harvests to supplement the meals of former prisoners transitioning back into society.

Today, Wisse and West hope to make Cultivate sustainable despite student matriculation by using revenue generated from produce sales to invest in future development. They’ve written a business plan that outlines crops for each season and offers details such as watering patterns.

“This is market style. Instead of giving produce away, we want to have funds to make things happen and get supplies for what needs to be done,” said Wisse, who is studying international business. “We want to provide a local sense of food to the Belmont community so you know where your food has come from and that it is organic. We are using our business skills to have a positive impact in the community.”

cultivate garden -0107-LThis summer, Cultivate is growing spinach, shallot onions, carrots, lettuce, squash, tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, potatoes, chives, basil and lemon balm, and the students have plans for cool weather crops with greens growing through the fall, said West, a social entrepreneurship major. Belmont employees, students and neighbors can purchase produce and herbs at cultivatebelmont.locallygrown.net and pick up their orders on Thursday afternoons or have them delivered to offices.

Through aquaponics, Wisse and West will raise fish and use their waste as fertilizer for tomatoes, strawberries, arugula, watermelon and lettuce in a self-sustaining system made of intermediate bulk containers and funded by student organization Slow Foods. The containers have goldfish, and they plan to add tilapia or catfish, which they also will sell.

There also are plans to turn the food garden into an educational sanctuary.

“Having a garden on campus demands that we pause and reflect.  It requires us to measure ourselves and our work by natural cycles and not by a clock or a calendar,” said Communication Studies Professor Jimmy Davis, who will teach an Environmental Communication class this fall. “Students will work on an effort to get the Belmont community to notice the garden and reflect on what it means to step away from the frenzy of the commercial food industry and to recognize yourself as being ‘a part of nature’ rather than ‘apart from nature.’”