Harvest Season is Party Season

Seasonal edibles decorate tables at last year's Fall Harvest Soiree.

Seasonal edibles decorate tables at last year’s Fall Harvest Soiree.

DJ and dancing, costume contest, cider-pressing, fresh munchies: sounds like a great Halloween party, right? Add the perfect setting—a harvest-season garden, with flowers still in bloom, and a few fruits and vegetables still on the vine—and you’ve got this year’s Edible Campus Gardens Fall Soirée and Service Project, a traditional harvest-season festival aimed at celebrating a great season of volunteerism and support for the student-run gardens on campus.

It’s the fourth year for the soirée, an event which gardens project manager and sustainability coordinator Jen Colby says is particularly enjoyable because it brings together lots of people whose work hours in the garden do not always overlap. Those who have never volunteered in the garden before are welcome as well—anyone and everyone is invited to the child-friendly, dog-friendly, Halloween costume-friendly event, which will also feature various planting service projects before the festivities begin.

Food will be provided by the Fiana Bistro, a campus eatery located in the USTAR building, which will use produce from the campus gardens in its recipes. The menu will include a variety of salsas made with campus-garden-grown peppers, alliums, garlic and tomatillos, plus some chef’s choice surprises. It’s the second time the soirée will be partnering with Fiana. The event will be hosted by the Lowell Bennion Community Service Center and the ASUU-sponsored gardens student group.

During the 2013-2014 school year, campus gardens benefited from 1,609 volunteer hours, provided by student garden stewards and other volunteers. This year, volunteers have been putting in just as many hours—among other things, working to save improved soil and otherwise mitigate the effects of construction projects taking place adjacent to the gardens.

A veritable forest of kale and chard bursts out of the well-tilled earth at the Pioneer Gardens during the height of this year's growing season.

A veritable forest of kale and chard bursts out of the well-tilled earth at the Pioneer Gardens during the height of this year’s growing season.

Student-run gardens have been yielding fresh fruit, veggies and flowers on campus for almost 20 years, since now-retired biology professor Fred Montague planted the idea for the first garden, near the Sill Center, in 1996. The Pioneer Garden, located between the Pioneer Memorial Theatre and Biology/Theater Storage buildings, was planted in 2002 and expanded in 2011 and 2012. The Sustainability Resource Center assumed administrative responsibility for the gardens in 2010 when Dr. Montague retired. A team of avid student garden leaders care, tend, and till the gardens and run service projects weekly throughout the year.

Produce grown in the gardens is sold at the fall U of U Farmer’s Market, sold to Campus Dining Services, donated to local

Student garden stewards and volunteers selling campus-grown produce at the 2014 U of U Farmer's Market.

Student garden stewards and volunteers selling campus-grown produce at the 2014 U of U Farmer’s Market.

charities, served during the fall Social Soup lecture series, and shared among garden volunteers. Another important function of the gardens is to serve as a demonstration lab, for classes such as a summer session organic gardening course, offered through the Environmental and Sustainability Studies department.

Though the soirée marks the end of the main growing season, Colby says that there will be opportunities to work in the garden or participate in related activities planned by student leaders throughout the winter. Colder-season initiatives will include mushroom and microgreens growing projects, gardening workshops, and the installation of a hoop house—a simple greenhouse-type growing structure that is heated by the sun and framed by a series of metal hoop semicircles. To receive regular notifications of campus garden work opportunities, send your email to uofucampusgardens@gmail.com or fill out an interest form at the Bennion Center web site.

Costume contest at the 2013 Fall Harvest Soiree.

Costume contest at the 2013 Fall Harvest Soiree.

The Edible Campus Gardens Fall Soirée and Service Project will be held Friday, Oct. 24, in the Pioneer Garden area east of Pioneer Memorial Theater. Garden work projects, including garlic planting, fall garden preparations and clean-up, and pollinator garden planting, will take place from noon to 4 p.m. All gardening supplies will be provided. The soirée will follow from 4 to 6 p.m. Costumes are welcome, and an audience-judged costume contest will be held around 5 p.m. A short volunteer recognition presentation will also take place at 5 p.m. All are welcome to drop in for any or all of the day’s events.

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