Students Plant Seeds of Culture Change

Remember the Pop Garden that flourished outside of Smith Lab last year? It was filled with annual food varieties and crops that could be “popped” when harvested, as well as contemporary pop-art signs to complete the theme.

The Pop Garden was the first space created as part of the AgriCULTURE Gardens Initiative, which advocates for culture change and encourages student engagement in agricultural practices on campus. This year, Ohio State’s Sustainable Growing Club (GrOSU), the Knowlton School’s Landscape Architecture program, Ohio State’s Landscape Services team, and the Initiative for Food and AgriCultural Transformation (InFACT) collaborated to create a new, long-term garden to take its place.

“We believe that change begins at home,” says InFACT Program Coordinator Nicole Pierron Rasul. “We recognize that a lot can be done on Ohio State’s campus to rethink the way we use land.”

InFACT is a Discovery Theme program that focuses on addressing food insecurity. The goal of the InFACT-led AgriCULTURE Gardens Initiative is to encourage students to engage with the university landscape and become involved in agricultural and planting activities.

“The fact that the university made an effort to incorporate student work into its campus design is really encouraging,” says Colin Hall, a graduate student in the Landscape Architecture program. “It shows that the university sees us not only as students, but as beginning designers, and that it takes our work as seriously as we do.” (left: Brendan Ayer and Colin Hall)

Hall was one of several graduate students in the Knowlton School ecology and technology landscape architecture class who designed and planted the new garden. Students were asked to analyze the original Pop Garden site and work in groups to create a new thematic design for the space. The project happened unbeknownst to InFACT team members, who were invited to view the final designs at the end of the semester.

“We were so surprised and happy this happened organically,” says Rasul. “We were totally blown away by the beautiful designs that these smart, creative students made.”

Overwhelmed by over 15 unique designs, the project partners decided to launch a survey for students to vote on which theme should be implemented in the space. Over 400 people participated in the survey, and it was decided that the two highest ranking designs should be combined into a hybrid garden concept.

Hall and group members Andrew Souders and Jonathan Stechschulte worked to combine their pollinator garden design with classmates Brendan Ayer, Tyler Cloud and Rachel Smith’s medicinal garden design. (right: students and staff on installation day)

“I think each team really appreciated the other's design, so it was exciting that both designs could be incorporated,” says Hall. “We realized that there were a few different plant species that overlapped in both designs, so we used that as a starting point for intersecting the two designs.”

The new garden is filled with perennial plants of both the medicinal and pollinator variety that will continue to flourish and return each year. The front section of the garden contains medicinal plants such as chamomile and lemon balm divided by their relaxing and energizing properties, while the back section is filled with pollinators like black-eyed Susan and common milkweed. The sections are split by a mulch path that allows visitors to access the interior of the garden.

“Translating a design concept from a scaled drawing to the site itself was an interesting process that forced us to better understand our designs and tweak things when necessary,” says Ayer. “It was a really rewarding experience.”

Both Hall and Ayer participated in installation day last month, along with Landscape Architecture students enrolled in a summer course, and members of GrOSU.

“I'm just so happy that more and more people are becoming interested in on campus gardens,” says GrOSU President Jamey Weyenberg, an electrical and computer engineering major. “The interest from the Knowlton Landscape Architecture students over the past year was huge, and I'm so excited to see where we can take this initiative over the years.” (left: Jamey Weyenberg and GrOSU advisor Chris Ratcliff)

Weyenberg will continue to maintain the garden as a student employee throughout the summer. He will also work on outreach to fellow students to become involved with the AgriCULTURE Initiative, with the goal of eventually creating a number of AgriCULTURE gardens across campus.

Besides serving as an educational space for students, the garden outside of Smith Lab has attracted attention and interest from a diverse group of students, faculty and staff over the past year.

“This project is able to transcend boundaries and has attracted interest from people from different walks of life and academic disciplines at Ohio State,” says Rasul. “It’s been really cool to see people react to the garden.”

Tristen Spahr is a student communications assistant at the Office of Energy and Environment.