Student Group Creates Supportive Space with Campus Community Garden

April 29, 2020

build day

It is no secret the American University Washington College of Law campus is filled with lush trees, beautiful landscaping, and state-of-the-art facilities – and now, thanks to some AUWCL students and administrators, a community garden.

It all started with tomatoes, 2L Caroline Butler explained.

“Last year, I asked Associate Dean of Student Affairs David Jaffe if I could put a few pots of tomatoes on campus because there are a lot of sunny spots. He offered the balcony connected to the Student Affairs Office,” Butler said.

Over the summer the balcony filled with paint buckets and reusable shopping bags, which Butler planted her produce in before harvesting her efforts and sharing with others around the school. Then last fall, Butler met with Lucinda Gardner, the assistant director of student affairs, and the idea for a community garden blossomed.

Ingrid Lesemann from The Program on Environmental and Energy Law (PEEL) connected me to all the right people, got us some funding, and reached out to students,” Butler said.

build day

The project grew into the WCL Community Garden, run by a student-led group based under the advisement and support of PEEL and Student Affairs. The motivation for the garden hinges on the values of health and wellness, food equity, fellowship, environmental stability, the creation of a community space, and building relationships through service work. It is also a way to honor those in the AUWCL community – PEEL has contributed funds to memorialize a former environmental law professor, Butler said, and the Student Bar Association is also funding a memorial for a student, Tim White, who passed away last year.

Unlike many student groups on campus, “we don't want this to be considered an official student organization with hierarchy and mandatory time commitments,” Butler said. Students, faculty, and staff are able to determine their level of involvement in the project. To promote involvement, participating gardeners hold “workdays” at the beginning of each season where the majority of planting and work on the garden is done. Members of the AUWCL community are also able to sign up for weekly gardening tasks, such as watering and weeding.

“There is a small contingent of students very dedicated to the project who carry a lot of the planning and administrative activities. We also have a larger group of about 20 students who have participated in Build Day and are engaged in the garden,” said 2L Lydia Hanson, who handles student outreach for the group. “PEEL has been incredibly supportive, with both funding and manual labor in the garden. The administration has also been very supportive, with Dean Jaffe bringing his daughter and donuts to Build Day, as well as providing logistical support, Additionally, the maintenance staff and the fundraising department have also been critical in the development of this community space." 

building day

Progress on the garden continues despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Since January, the WCL gardeners have planted hundreds of seedlings in their homes in preparation for planting. Last month, the group dug in-ground beds and planted cold-weather crops such as snow peas. Remotely, the group has begun holding bi-weekly virtual meetings to continue their work and planning.

“Broadly speaking, I hope the garden is a lively co-operation between students, faculty, and staff. I hope it is a place where students can let go of perfectionism and insecurity,” Butler said. “I hope that when people spend time working in the garden, their inner self-critic becomes at least a little quieter. I hope working in the garden teaches people patients. I mention all this because that is what the experience has done for me.”

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