Education

University of Iowa students closer to having campus garden

Group continues fundraising to create garden closer to students

Kenzie Putz (left), with UI Student Gardeners, leads a 2017 tour through the group's garden plot on Hawkeye Park Road in
Kenzie Putz (left), with UI Student Gardeners, leads a 2017 tour through the group’s garden plot on Hawkeye Park Road in Iowa City. The student group is raising money to create a garden on the University of Iowa central campus, eventually creating an outdoor classroom that will supply students and food-insecure community members with fresh produce. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

A group of University of Iowa student gardeners — accustomed to trekking off campus to grow their fruits and vegetables but hoping that soon will change — last year received the news that administrative funding for a central garden was off the table.

They had been planning for a main-campus UI Garden and Outdoor Classroom just east of the Iowa River behind North Hall — equipped with things like running water, sturdy fencing, wheelchair-accessible raised beds, seating and a bathroom — costing a total $181,000. On top of the upfront expense, annual recurring costs for the 1/3-acre organic garden were projected at $34,000 — for things like crops and maintenance.

Including commitments from UI Student Government and the College of Public Health, UI Student Gardeners asked campus administrators for $176,000 in one-time funds, plus another $20,000 annually for recurring costs.

But then state lawmakers last year cut UI funding, prompting a number of campus cuts and delays, including money for the garden.

“The university appreciates the students’ efforts,” UI spokeswoman Anne Bassett said in October 2018. “They’ve been encouraged to build fundraising support for this project.”

What’s happened since

The UI Student Gardners took that advice and — in their pursuit of alternative funding sources — tapped community partners and business sponsors. They also launched a crowdfunding effort through the UI Center for Advancement — the independent UI fundraising arm — on its “Gold Rush” website.

Their push on that site — which typically allows campus groups to solicit less than $10,000 in public donations for research or academic activities — has generated more than $4,500. Gifts from $10 to $500 have come in from donors calling themselves, among other things, “Watermelon Winner,” “Carrot Contributor,” “Broccoli Benefactor” and “Squash Supporter.”

Additionally, the students have made their financial goals more attainable by breaking the project into two parts — one for the garden itself and a second for the outdoor classroom.

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With just $90,000 needed to initiate work on the central-campus garden, students are near their goal — with $80,000 raised.

“This new garden will enable us to increase our output, growing more food for more students and food-insecure community members, while increasing the visibility of our efforts and opportunities for learning,” according to the Gold Rush pitch for donations.

In further articulating the demand, students report needing a half-hour bus ride or organized carpool to visit the current garden plot, near the Hawkeye Commuter Lot on Hawkeye Park Road, which “greatly limits” direct student use.

“It also makes coordinating our regular food pantry donations difficult and creates obstacles for students hoping to enroll in the two living-learning sciences courses taught at the garden by local expert Fred Meyer of the nonprofit Backyard Abundance,” according to the Gold Rush campaign.

Transforming the new central garden into a suitable outdoor classroom will require another $90,000, according to UI sophomore Olivia Bohlmann, a co-president of the UI Student Gardeners. Plus, the group still expects to need about $20,000 annually to maintain it.

UI Student Government has given $38,374 toward labor costs for the new garden, matched with a grant from Wellmark.

Students are planning additional conversations with various campus leaders, including those in the Colleges of Public Lealth and Liberal Arts and Sciences and the UI Housing and Dining, “for help with funding the recurring fees through an endowment,” Bohlmann told The Gazette.

“We have been reaching out to local businesses, and applied for a grant from Walmart,” she said.

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With their goal in sight, though, the group is eyeing a 2020 fall groundbreaking “so that some of the leadership already in place will still be there to see it,” Bohlmann said.

The student gardening group has an executive board of 11 and about 30 consistent members — with participation typically spiking in the spring for seasonal planting.

With a history dating back a decade, the club annually harvests nearly 1,000 pounds of fresh produce, free for volunteers and often donated to local food pantries — including the relatively new UI student food pantry.

“We are committed to promoting and using sustainable growing practices, providing students with practical skills and combating food insecurity on campus,” according to the group’s Gold Rush push.

“The more people recognize what we’re doing and understand where we’re coming from and why we want to do this, I think the easier it’ll be to get the project done,” UI Gardeners co-president Derek Tate, a senior, said.

HOW TO GIVE

Visit the UI Student Gardener’s Gold Rush campaign at https://goldrush.uiowa.edu/project/17839.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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