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Edible Campus grows community through interactive gardens

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The edible garden on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus is located outside of Davis Library, and it is accessible to all students and staff.

Past the bookshelves and study rooms of Davis Library lies a hidden quarter-acre garden filled with mint, rosemary and an endless amount of sunshine. Not only is this garden free to enjoy, but its crops are free for anyone to take.

The team behind this space is Edible Campus: an organization housed under the North Carolina Botanical Garden. Their main purpose is to promote food and agricultural sustainability through their gardens. 

Aside from their main garden behind Davis Library, they also maintain 10 smaller gardens dispersed across campus, each of which has its own crops for community members to forage. The program also hosts food drives, weekly work days where people can volunteer in the gardens and other community-based events.

“After our workdays and the events we do, people talk about how good they feel being outside,” Edible Campus Coordinator Kyle Parker said. “I think the health benefits of getting outside and getting your fingers in the dirt are pretty much scientifically known at this point, but I see it reflected all the time just working with students out there.”

The program was conceptualized in 2015 by a student named Emily Auerbach. In response to the food insecurity that college students faced, Auerbach had the idea to plant food on campus. 

Auerbach was eventually hired by Carol Folt, UNC’s former chancellor, to do a feasibility study and identify optimal areas for the gardens, which led to the creation of the Edible Campus program. 

In 2016, the NCBG adopted the program for educational outreach. 

Today, the program is led by Parker. He started out as a horticulture specialist for the program. He said he has been able to meet new people in the gardens every day and has seen how various community members have utilized the space.

Parker oversees Edible Campus’ student leadership team, which is made up of 11 UNC students. These students are responsible for watering the garden beds, planning events and other tasks that vary based on their position.

Eloise MacLean, the treasurer and a leader on the communications and social media teams, said she felt that the gardens act as a good conversation starter between people with different backgrounds and provide students with better access to fresh vegetables. 

She also noted that through Edible Campus, she has been able to better connect with others and with nature.

“Gardening is a really good excuse for me to get outside, and I think for a lot of people, it’s really enjoyable to spend some time outside, especially after you’ve been cooped up in Davis all day, looking at a screen,” she said. “It’s a really nice way to connect with the ground and put your hands in the soil and feel connected to the Earth.”

Grace Layman, a leader on the social media and compost team, said she enjoys the community that she's found at Edible Campus.

“I just got started this semester, but I would say I already feel like I have a better and closer community,” she said. “At our workdays, I like to talk with my boss and my coworkers and everyone that comes out, and they’re all just very open. It’s nice to be around people that have similar interests and similar career paths, but also they’re just so diverse.”

Currently, the team is focused on preparing for their biggest event of the year: the Harvest Moon Festival. The festival serves as a celebration of the transition into fall and will take place on Oct. 12 in the main garden at 5:45 p.m. There will be free food, as well as live music and drag performances. 

The team will also be hosting a “Budburst” workday event on Oct. 5 from 3-5 p.m. where students can help plant new crops in the main garden.

More information on how to sign up for Edible Campus workdays can be found here.

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@dthlifestyle | lifestyle@dailytarheel.com

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