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Edible Campus project would turn UNC into living garden

The Edible Campus, a project run by Chancellor’s Fellow Emily Auerbach, is currently in the works. The goal of the project is to add high-functioning plants to areas on campus with heavy traffic.

High-functioning plants include plants that are native, medicinal and edible, Auerbach said.

Auerbach said trees, most likely persimmon trees, will be planted by volunteers in November as the first installment of the project. Auerbach said she hopes the area between Davis Library and Davis ATMs will eventually become an edible plant garden.

“We’re working with the libraries and seeing if there’s a way we can make that space work better for the whole campus,” she said.

In addition to plants, she said she’s planning signs to go with the plants and educational events to help people on campus learn more about food.

Auerbach said she estimates the total cost of the project will be between $80,000 and $200,000, from a mixture of public and private money.

“Most of that is going toward construction,” she said.

Rebecca Chaisson, a student on the subcommittee of student government’s Environmental Affairs Committee working on the project, said The Edible Campus is important because it helps students think about where their food is coming from.

“Whatever you do every day, you have to physically walk through campus, and it’s a space that’s underutilized,” Chaisson said. “We’re not talking about starting a farm; we just want people to have that tangible and palpable idea of where what they’re eating comes from.”

Chaisson said she thinks there’s a disconnect between how we eat and how food is grown.

“Agriculture is so separated from everyday life because it’s big farms,” Chaisson said. “This is integrating it into everyday routine. Food is integrated into everyday routine, so where that food comes from should be as well.”

Auerbach said she hopes the project can partner with the CarolinaGO app, which became available in fall 2014, to offer students real-time updates about the edible plants on campus.

“Students can write in and say if the plants are ripe,” Auerbach said.

Auerbach said she is planning to partner with the steering committee of UNC’s Food for All academic theme. Marcie Cohen Ferris and Alice Ammerman are the chairpersons of the committee.

“They’re also proposing a really beautiful edible pocket park near Davis Library that would be a neat place to sit, eat and study, connecting the community to the flavors of our state and region,” Cohen Ferris said. “We hope to see lots of collards planted all around campus.”

Ammerman said the steering committee is awarding “micro grants” for projects relating to food issues on campus and in the community. Ammerman said the grants range in value from hundreds of dollars to thousands of dollars. The money is coming from the Office of the Provost.

“Part of our thinking is that when people write a proposal for what we’re calling a micro grant, they get assistance from the steering committee for getting other resources,” Ammerman said. “So they get the networking and the interdisciplinary nature beyond just money.”

Cohen Ferris said UNC is settled in the heart of one of the most vibrant food movements in the country due to the amount of food activism in the region. She said she hopes Food for All can help draw students’ attention to what’s going on in the community around them.

“I just think it’s exciting to help our Carolina community really gain knowledge about this rich, complex food culture that is North Carolina,” Cohen Ferris said. “By the time students graduate, they have a really clear sense of what North Carolina food cultures are really all about.”

Food for All is the UNC academic theme for 2015-17. It follows Water in Our World, the first-ever academic theme. It began in 2012.

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Terry Rhodes, who served as the co-chairperson of the Water in our World steering committee, said the committee gave grants funded by the Office of the Provost, similar to Food for All.

“These were modest sums of money because we wanted lots of things to happen,” Rhodes said.

Nikki Behnke, co-president of A Drink for Tomorrow, said the theme helped her group get off the ground.

“We only existed for a year officially before the water theme began,” Behnke said. “The water theme was a really crucial resource for us.”

Cohen Ferris said she and others planning Food for All are taking inspiration from Water in Our World.

“One thing that they’ve tried to share with us is to make sure that we involve the Carolina community as much as possible,” Cohen Ferris said. “That, and that we also need to be as loud and engaged with our community as we can to really publicize and promote this theme in ways that really matter to our students.”