The Bearkat Community Gardens is a brand new, grassroots program at Sam Houston State University, with a goal to end food insecurity through service, education, and sustainable gardening. The Garden was started in January 2017, to give students, faculty, staff and alumni the space to practice their own sustainable gardening. The garden is located at the SHSU Horticulture Center, and is currently comprised of a three-fourths acre Field Garden with 12 raised-beds that grow approximately 10 different types of fruits and vegetables each season.
The Community Garden is maintained and cared for by volunteers and donations.
“While the majority of the ‘dirty’ work is completed by awesome volunteers in exchange for service hours,” Garden Manger Isabella Jeffrey said. “There are some things that rely on the generosity of local businesses and donations from individuals, like deer fence, water hoses, mulch, fertilizer, etc.”
The garden is sponsored by the Center for Community Engagement, and is supported by several departments on campus, including Biological Sciences, Agricultural Sciences, Curriculum & Instruction, First-Year Experience, along with many others.
Not only does the garden enable learning opportunities and friendships, but it also allows students to give back to the community through their service.
“With the addition of our new Field Garden, we are producing tons of fruits and vegetables that we make available to our volunteers and club members,” Jeffrey said. “We are also partnered with the SHSU Food Pantry and the Good Shepherd Mission of Huntsville, so any of the extra produce is donated to the Food Pantry if their distribution days line up with the harvests and given to the Good Shepherd Mission otherwise.”
There are several ways to be involved with the gardens, whether as an individual or as a group. Service hours are offered during the week for individuals at the Open Garden, and Service Days are scheduled for organizations to do some of the more extensive projects. Groups of students can also adopt one of the 12 raised beds, for a small fee, and grow whatever they would like in their plot.
“Of course, they sign a contract and have to make sure their plot is maintained through regular weeding, watering, and harvesting throughout their specified contract season,” Jeffrey said.
Not only do the volunteers get service hours for their time working in the Garden, but they can also take home some of the harvests.
“We have a very diverse pool of volunteers, so there are a lot of perspectives shared and conversations had,” Jeffrey said. “And of course, there are infinite learning possibilities for anyone who is interested, but we welcome volunteers of all experiences. That is part of what makes working out there so interesting.”
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