By Alicia Wrigley-Gailey, Office of Sustainability
Golden leaves, the scent of fresh cider, and refrains of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” swirled in the autumn breeze as volunteers and community members celebrated the end of the Edible Campus Gardens’ growing season at last Friday’s Fall Harvest Soiree.
The annual celebration, in its third year now, is held to honor those who keep the Edible Campus Gardens up and running by volunteering and gives those workers a chance to sample the bounty of organic produce they help to grow.
This year, the event kicked off with some final bits of work before winter comes. Partygoers finished harvesting a few stray green tomatoes, cleared the beds of leftover plants, and planted garlic that will grow under the cover of snow.
When the work was done, the festivities began. Garden workers donned Halloween outfits and paraded for a costume contest. Music, played off vinyl records by a live sustainability intern Inacio Lopez clad in a jailbird costume, set the celebratory mood. Organizers rolled out an old-fashioned cider press and began squeezing apples fresh from a local orchard. A henna tattoo artist from Mountain Mehndi adorned hands, arms, and ankles with intricate designs.
But focus of the event was a gorgeous spread of food, prepared by Fiana Bistro from an assortment of produce grown in the Edible Campus Gardens this year: tomatoes, tomatillos, cilantro, basil, parsley, potatoes, arugula, spinach, collard greens, chili peppers, winter squash.
Later in the evening, Jen Colby, sustainabilty coordinator at the Office of Sustainabilty, honored Jenn Watt, assistant director of the Environmental & Sustainability Studies program, and Alexandra Parvaz, former garden coordinator, for their contributions to the success of the gardens this year.
Watt has worked this year to find and hire a qualified instructor for the organic gardening class that is offered to students during the summer on site at the Edible Campus Gardens. The new instructor holds a master’s degree from Berkeley in horticulture. Watt says the success of the class helps demonstrate to the University that the gardens are good for more than just food production.
“[Finding a good instructor] makes a big difference in showing that we can utilize the gardens for academic classes,” Watt says.
Parvaz has been a part of the Edible Campus Gardens family from the beginning, first as a student, then as staff. She has been instrumental in planning and running the gardens. Colby thanked Parvaz for her immense dedication and presented her with a certificate and some small gardening tools as mementos of her time working with the gardens.
Bennion center student program co-directors Bradley DeHerrera and Kate McCarty presented awards to two volunteers who have been particularly frequent faces around the gardens and farmers markets this year: Erika Longino and Emma Wilson.
Longino started volunteering at the gardens after a recent move to the Salt Lake valley. She has been interested in edible landscaping projects for some time, and says working in the Edible Campus Gardens has given her a wide variety of experiences.
“I’ve really enjoyed working in this environment, being able to learn and teach. I’ve had a really holistic experience getting to work in the gardens with other people who are passionate about it,” Longino says.
Wilson’s favorite aspect of volunteering was what she was able to incorporate into her life at home.
“It’s valuable that whenever I volunteer I get to take home some greens, and it’s my main source of fiber for the season. But intellectually speaking, I’ve started a little garden in my place, and it’s great to know about the logistics of composting,” Wilson says.
Whatever the various volunteers’ reasons for working in the gardens, the Soiree highlighted what they all have in common: a community.
McCarty summed it up nicely: “This is the one place on campus that I’ve finally found a community that I fit in with. I just love them here. You never meet anybody who isn’t super nice, kind of crazy at times, and just great,” She says.
While work at the garden has slowed for the winter season, a fresh new crop of volunteers will be needed in the spring. Check out the Edible Campus Gardens’ web page to learn how to get involved!
Alicia Wrigley-Gailey is a senior in Communication and Jazz Performance. She is a Sustainability Ambassador with the Office of Sustainability.