Growing Together: Notre Dame Community Gardens

Author: Natalie Ambrosio '17

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This year a fall stroll just off Campus along Ivy Road, might bring you past the newly revamped Notre Dame Community Gardens. There, a visitor would find the metal planting boxes holding graduate student plantings, the Notre Dame Undergraduate Student Garden, as well as a free library made from an old newspaper dispenser, corn hole and a picnic table. 

You might also run into Cassondra Kronenberg ’21 and Amy Kryston M.Eng ’21, who happen to share both their pursuit of engineering degrees and their lack of previous gardening experience. Yet Cassondra has embraced her new role as president of Notre Dame’s 4H club this year, and its key project – the undergraduate garden. Likewise, when Amy’s search for a solution to food insecurity among Notre Dame graduate students led her to the garden, she stepped up to get graduate students involved.

When Amy was the Vice President of the Graduate Student Union (GSU) last year, she learned that there was a food security challenge among Notre Dame grad students. “We decided to look into that because it’s a serious issue,” she says. They explored the possibility of a food pantry and food rescue program, but faced challenges with both. Through conversations with the Office of Sustainability, Amy learned about Notre Dame’s community garden and saw this as a potential solution. 

With support from the GSU, Amy was able to procure 36 3x6 metal boxes for individual graduate students to plant or share with another student. When Amy sent her first email to the GSU list last summer, over 40 students signed up and they ran out of space on the first day. There’s been great interest and this is only the beginning.

Garden

Amy describes the dignified food model, based on that of Unity Gardens in South Bend. This approach depends upon volunteers who enjoy spending time planting and tending to the garden, which then allows those who need it to pick fresh produce for free. Amy explains that food insecurity doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is starving but rather that they lack access to “quality produce.” By partnering with undergraduate students who enjoy time spent outside, appreciate the mental and physical benefits of gardening, but don’t need the food, Amy hopes to build a dignified food model in Notre Dame’s garden. 

Meanwhile, the logistics of revitalizing the garden space have kept the gardeners busy, and significant improvements have been made possible this fall thanks to funds raised by the Sustainability Minor to support experiential and outdoor education. “So much of what we have been able to accomplish in expanding Sustainability Studies at Notre Dame in recent years has been thanks to the generosity of our alumni,” says Professor Rachel Novick, Director of the Sustainability Minor. “The Abraham Foundation Sustainability Fund adds a new dimension because it’s specifically focused on hands-on learning, both in and out of the classroom. The Fund is supporting a number of improvements this fall, including a new shed, tools, and a hoop house that will enable winter gardening.”

When the former president of Notre Dame’s 4H club asked Cassondra to take over Notre Dame’s Undergraduate Student Garden last spring when she was graduating, her lack of experience made Cassondra hesitant. But after diving in, she’s found that this challenge is also her favorite part. “It’s very much a learning process,” she says. She has been striving to revitalize the undergraduate participation in the student garden. This has been a multifaceted endeavor including social media promotion, logistics, gardening and working with her vice president to organize events for students in the garden.

Cassondra is beginning to outline different ways that undergraduates can get involved with the garden, based on their scheduling constraints as well as logistical challenges, such as not having cars. While it’s still taking shape, the opportunities for involvement are vast, ranging from participating in community weeding days, committing to regular watering schedules or even helping to plan the next steps for the garden – of which there are many.

While Amy and Cassondra explain that the garden is just getting off the ground, it’s clear that it will continue to grow. Cassondra is leveraging permaculture experience she gathered during time working on a professor’s farm this past summer to plan for a permaculture section in the garden. Meanwhile, Amy describes the potential for a butterfly stopover area in some spare space, shares their plans to incorporate art into the garden and explains how great it would be to develop an apiary. “We have a lot of ideas. If we can just get one or two things done each season that would be great,” she says.

If you’re interested in getting involved in the garden or would like to learn more, reach out to Amy at akryston@nd.edu or Cassondra at ckronenb@nd.edu