• Emily Gilmore

Where I wish I was: UNF's Ogier Gardens

We're in the midst of social isolation and I can't help but wish I was able to visit so many places that are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of these places is the Ogier Gardens at the University of North Florida. To hopefully bring a little brightness to your lives, I'm sharing a story I wrote when I attended a workshop in the gardens last fall. Here she is:

UNF’s version of Eden is nestled inconspicuously behind the Lot 18 parking lot. It consists of multiple fruit trees, rows of colorful vegetables, and a labyrinth of raised garden beds. On Friday, October 25th, the Frederick and Ophelia Tate Ogier Gardens were abuzz, not only with bees and butterflies, but with UNF students. The intimate group of eight students sat around a picnic table with their attentions turned towards Kevin Anderson, the Ogier Gardens coordinator and leader of the workshop being held that day: Intro to Organic Gardening.

This workshop is just one of many hosted by the Ogier Gardens. Workshops occur almost every Friday and rotate through a series of topics, including Compost 101 and Good Bug or Bad Bug? A knowledgeable staff member hosts each workshop, which are open to all students. In Intro to Organic Gardening, students would “learn to make plants thrive through basic organic methods,” Anderson said.

Organic gardening is one of the many ways the staff and students at the garden aim to make the UNF campus more eco-friendly. Organic gardening follows the philosophy that gardening should encompass the whole environment, according to the North Carolina Cooperative Extension. Anderson recognizes that there is a growing movement for organically grown food and puts this philosophy into practice. “We need to do a better job of growing food that doesn’t harm the environment,” he told the group. To do this, Anderson suggests taking care of the soil and insects in the garden, as well as the plants.

But as much as science is a part of gardening, there is also a cultural aspect to it. “I like to get people pumped about gardening because it’s about eating and sharing too,” Anderson told the group. Anderson proved this philosophy to be true later on, as he guided students on a tour of the gardens, picking tomatoes and herbs for them to try.

In fact, eating and sharing is a big part of what the student volunteers at the garden make possible. Some of the food that they harvest goes to the Osprey Cafe so other students can enjoy it in salad or wrap form. Additionally, the Lend-A-Green pantry is a segment of the Lend-a-Wing pantry that allows students in need access to fresh produce from the garden.

Natalie Federico, a summer 2019 UNF graduate, believes that this is a big part of the value of the gardens. Federico attended workshops and potlucks at the garden as a student, but returned to take Friday’s workshop because she wanted to feel the sense of community that the garden offers. She also believes that the garden provides a safe haven for students. “I think the gardens can give UNF students an outlet to express themselves creatively,” she said.

One of the ways students are able to express this creativity is the Adopt-A-Bed program. This program gives students the chance to grow their own vegetables, as long as they maintain their garden bed and use organic gardening methods. These hardworking students can be seen working in the garden on sunny days, pulling weeds, picking tomatoes, and enjoying the freedom this garden offers them.

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