The Garden That Gives Back

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A garden right here on campus is enriching the community and the education of our students. The Giving Garden is an amazing part of our campus and it is making a tremendous comeback.
In 2009 a small slice of farm life was established in the ever growing urban campus of UW Tacoma. With an initial grant from the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation’s Green Partnership Fund, a modest garden had its beginnings. With the help of Jim Gawel, the faculty member that started the garden; Project Earth, the student organization that oversees the garden; and many, many volunteers, beds were built, land was cleared, and bags upon bags of invasive species were removed and replaced with native vegetation. Volunteers started seeds, raised plants, and found innovative ways to water and mulch to keep weeds out and plants healthy.

Students decide what to put in their garden "bed."

UW Tacoma’s Giving Garden yielded its first proceeds in May of that very same year, and so started the many food donations the garden would produce. However the garden couldn’t stay firmly on its feet. There was no real system of people caring for it and every time a new officer would come into Project Earth, or as students came and went, they were forced to nearly start all over. Despite this, the garden didn’t fall off the campus radar entirely.
As Jim Gawel said, “We’re not well known on the campus due to the fact that we’re coming back from a one year lapse that we’ve had.” He went on to say that they’ve been mostly creating their own publicity, and had been efficiently reaching out to the community. “We’ve had plenty of people from the community use our space for workshops. We hope to get that up and going again.” And after a year of downtime, this is no easy task.
Now, after a location change and some serious revamping, the Giving Garden is ready to be put back on the minds of people on and around campus. The Garden has close to thirty raised beds, many fruit trees and rain barrels, ready to be used and cared for. Project Earth President Ryan Brookman has high hopes for the future of this garden, putting the problems of the past behind him. “The yearly transition, because the garden is run by a club, creates a turnover issue.” says Ryan, “We’re trying to make it easy, so that transition goes away.”
The garden can speak for itself: even through a dry summer, the stress of being in new soil, and a new location, the Giving Garden has something to give. As soon as they’re ripe, a donation of carrots and potatoes will be put together for Saint Leo’s Church. “It’s a small donation.” Ryan says, “Our goal is to have a nice big harvest by next fall.” and with an established sprinkler system, a donation of compost, and plots being contracted out to students and community members they are on track to have a large harvest for the upcoming year.
The Giving Garden is back on its feet and has the potential to be better than ever. Plots are now being planted with winter greens and a plan for composting is on its way. But Project Earth wants more for the Garden. “Everything in the garden needs a lot of work, but we want to get Project Earth back to doing more than just overseeing the Giving Garden,” said Ryan. He explained that he wants to make the Garden a communal space, a place where the campus and the community can hold events and workshops.
Project Earth plans to achieve its goals by having students and community members garden plots under a contract. If an assigned plot is not being used or cared for, it will be reassigned to whoever is next on the waiting list. Students will be free to use the space for their projects. “Science students doing their capstone projects can come out here to do research and experiments. Anyone can use the space, as long as everything is done organically and donated to charity in the end,” said Ryan.
As for the “green” aspect of this community garden, there are plans to make a composting bed for the fallen leaves and grass clippings and other plant-waste the garden plots produce. The mulch that is on the ground now came from four trees that had been taken out near the Pinkerton building. There are rain barrels on site that are being used to collect water, and the sprinkler system is up and running as well. By next summer there are hopes to have a hive of bees in an enclosure near the garden to pollinate all the vegetation and keep the garden thriving. The Giving Garden is intended to be all organic and even features a space for native plants to grow.
In the eyes of its current stewards, the Giving Garden is another way UW Tacoma reaches out to our surrounding community. In the Giving Garden, meaningful experience crosses paths with charity and the obligation our university puts upon itself to give back to the city in which we’re immersed.
Written by: 
Makayla Woods / October 24, 2014
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, Media Relations, 253-692-4536,