Over a dozen new gardening beds are being installed this week at LSU’s Community Garden at Hill Teaching Farm, a serene escape hidden in plain sight beyond the chaos of campus parking. The garden serves as an on-campus sanctuary for students with a wide range of majors and nationalities.
“It’s here so that students have that opportunity to grow fruits, vegetables and herbs, because a lot of students either live in dorms or apartments and they just don’t have access to the yard space they probably did when they were growing up,” organizer Kiki Fontenot, an associate professor at LSU’s School of Plant, Environmental and Soil Sciences, says.
Fontenot runs the program with her colleague Ed Bush. Together, they mentor students of all experience levels, guiding them through the gardening process each season.
“We are coaches,” Bush says. “They don’t have to worry about knowing everything about gardening.”
The garden was originally built and supplied with beds, seeds and tools through a student sustainability fund grant, meaning the program is free for students willing to put a little time and hard work into their plot. Its positive emotional impact is undeniable, according to Kenyan LSU junior George Gababa.
“My garden is a good refresher for me,” Gababa says. “I don’t play any sports. This is one way of refreshing my mind.”
Gababa feels the benefits go beyond having a relaxing hobby. It’s “cost-savvy,” he says, citing a time he used one of his favorite ingredients, cabbage, from his garden for a full month before having to visit the grocery store.
Fellow LSU junior Allison Huddleston has grown edamame and watermelon, and her experience in the garden inspired a career path change.
“I thought I wanted to go to law school,” she says. “Then, having my own bed here helped me realize, ‘Oh, I really like this: (being) outdoors, working with plants and being in the sun.’”
Participants join the garden to grow fresh fruits and vegetables, but many stay because it cultivates a strong community.
“Every time I’m out here, I get to meet someone else who is maybe part of another organization that I would never usually interact with,” says junior Aidan O’Neal.
Fontenot has noticed the program has organically become popular with international students, and she attributes the trend to how students have bonded over their newfound interests. Gardeners often gather to share their produce and dishes. The club holds a banquet each year, when students cook with what they’ve grown.
This semester, the community garden’s influence has not gone unnoticed. A new grant has been awarded to the program to extend its reach on campus and allow students on the waitlist to get growing.
As beds open up for new participants, Fontenot and Bush hope to spread awareness about the gardens so more students can cash in on grocery savings, learn skills and foster a community.
“Even if our next set of beds fill up too quickly, there’s always another grant avenue we can look into.”
Interested LSU students can apply for a plot in the garden by emailing Kiki Fontenot.