Austin, Texas, takes pride in being a health-oriented city, by giving its residences the ability to choose food from a number of grocery markets, health stores, farmers markets, and community gardens.
The University of Texas at Austin’s Concho Community Garden is one of those options. Located just off campus, the garden is accessible by foot, UT shuttle, or bike. With the help of students and volunteers, UT’s first community garden was established in the spring of 2011. With backing from the UT Campus Environmental Center, the UT Office of Sustainability, the UT Division of Housing and Food Service, and the UT Landscaping Services, the Concho Community Garden is a thriving student and volunteer run garden here on campus.
The garden presently grows a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as five different fruit trees. With over 30 individual plots, students, or faculty and staff, may request to use one of these plots and grow an assortment of different foods from the seeds up. The Concho Community Garden provides the seeds to the growers, and educates them on the importance of gardening.
“The vision of the community garden is just to create educational space for people part of the UT community and the surrounding community,” said Mijae Grosman, an assistant coordinator at the Concho Community Gardens.
Currently, UT is also home to a Micro-Farm, which opened in 2012 and is completely student run. Unlike the micro-farm, which is geared to outsourcing the grown produce to the university and surrounding food shelters, the community gardens produce is given back to the growers themselves to cook and eat.
Community gardens and micro-farms help enrich a sense of community ownership and they foster the development of locally grown fruits and vegetables that are not normally available in urban areas. It is a healthy, inexpensive activity that helps bring together people in the community in a productive way.
“It creates solidarity within the community,” said Grosman. “It allows people to kind of have their own space and go to somewhere they are surrounded by living things and nature.”
For many people, working at a community garden is very therapeutic. According to a study done by The American Community Gardening Association, exposure to green spaces reduces stress, and increased a sense of wellness.
Of the students the garden wishes to reach, the Concho Community Garden is also open and welcoming of teams and organizations wishing to join and look after their own plot.
Micki Smith-Stocker, a member of the group Habitat for Humanity, started volunteering with the Concho Community Gardens at the beginning of the spring semester. She said that she has worked with community gardens before, but is still getting valuable experience.
Community gardens are not uncommon, with over 10 urban farms and around 30 community gardens in the Austin area; the fresh food movement seems to be making headway. Educating the public is just the first step in creating more efficient gardens around the city.
“One of my favorite things is learning about all the other things in the garden,” said Smith-Stocker. “I did not realize so many things were edible.”
Students and community volunteers currently oversee the day-to-day operations in the gardens, and gain knowledge from first hand experience. Those who volunteer at the community gardens get a better understanding of where their food comes from.
“It’s good to know where your food comes from,” said Nina Lobo, a Concho Community Garden volunteer, “its good to be connected, just to appreciate the earth and food and just realize how important it is.”
Here are a few interesting facts about sustainable food: