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Beloit Urban Garden takes root with interns at helm

June 17, 2013

Plants in the Beloit Urban Garden (BUG) may be just starting to sprout, but the ideas that germinated the garden into fruition were planted all of last semester.

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“All spring semester we’d been working with the administration, with food service, with students to try and make this a reality,” says Kyle Bohrer’14, a Sustainability Fellow and one of two interns managing the garden this summer. He and a handful of other students (including Keston Geistwalker’13, whose internship is funded by BSC) spent the spring making connections with food service, getting the administration approval, securing a location for the garden, and finding funding.

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The college now has two plots, several above-ground beds (Bohrer constructed them himself, out of recycled bricks—some of the bricks were used in Beloit streets, and are stamped with the year they were installed: 1880), a Mason beehive, and a composting bin to show for the students’ hard work. The garden sits on a lot across Church Street from Karris Field, near one of the Beloit Fire Department stations at the corner of Park and White avenues.

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“At last count, we have over 40 different kinds of produce, and we’re trying to do all heirloom varieties, varieties that are used to the Wisconsin climates,” Bohrer explains.  “All produce will be sold to Bon Appetit at full market value, but things we’ve been talking about in the future have been getting a farm stand on campus, or getting a CSA for students and faculty.” Beloiters got their first taste of BUG’s offerings when Bon Appetit used arugula and summer greens in the menus planned for Reunion 2013.

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As BUG is his first gardening experience, Bohrer admits there’s been a learning curve, but that’s exactly the point.

“This is one of my first experiences gardening. But really one of the main goals of the garden is to be an educational opportunity as well, and a place where students can come work, learn about gardening, but also see sustainability in action,” he says. He took many of his cues from Geistwalker, who has had experience working on farms, and from doing research.

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“One of the things we did during last semester was talk with various student focus groups and say, ‘What do you want from a garden on campus?’ A lot of people want to see the educational things, they want to see it integrated into the curriculum, they want to see produce in Commons from [the garden],” he adds.

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In the fall, he hopes more students will get involved with BUG, with the idea that selling the produce will help create a financially self-sustaining garden that will carry on for years to come. So far, the garden’s growers seem to have the interest and support, of their fellow Beloiters.

“It’s been really encouraging to see how much support there is from the garden, from students, from administration, even from all of our neighbors—they’ve all been very excited to see it,” Bohrer says.