Students produce organic food from campus soil
The close observer will notice that ASU’s Tempe campus is dotted with fruit and nut trees.
The most obvious, of course, are the more than 260 Seville, or sour oranges, that are most numerous. These trees were planted many years ago, when sour oranges were in fashion in the Phoenix area.
But there also are sweet and blood oranges, grapefruit, lemon, kumquat, lemonquat, limequat, pecan, date, white sapote and olive trees, as well as herbs such as rosemary, garlic, chives and cilantro, and vegetables in season.
What does all this mean on a university campus?
While ASU is far from being a producing farm, it does generate a lot of food that has the potential to be sold, used by the chefs at the Memorial Union and University Club, or donated to worthy causes.
The growing food production on the Tempe campus also is the focus of a plant biology internship, “The Edible Campus,” instructed by Randel Hanson, an assistant professor who teaches courses in environmental studies and climate change in the Department of Social Behavioral Sciences on the Polytechnic campus.
The class focuses on several areas, Hanson says.
“It helps students understand the organic machine that is ASU and gives them an insight into the culture shift taking place at the grounds level – composting our green waste and keeping all of the edibles out of the waste stream as well as trying to help connect the students to their campus landscape-showing some of the possibilities in eating locally grown food,” Hanson says.
“The students also have their own organic garden spots on the campus, and will assist with the harvesting of the plants, such as the oranges and nuts. They also will assisting in marketing the products that come from the harvest, such as marmalade and the dates, and they will visit the farm where ASU’s green waste goes for composting.”
Hanson, who is a long-term organic gardener himself, says the internship was student-driven, not a course put together by faculty.
“It came out of a group of students who have been trying to push ways the university can be more responsible in its ecological footprint,” he says.
“I was advising a group of students around energy and food issues, and they asked that I become a faculty sponsor for that group, and we put together this course.”
The inaugural internship attracted five students, mostly from plant biology and landscape architecture, but Hanson expects the numbers to grow.
Lana Idriss, a fourth-year student in architecture and landscape architecture, says she had “no idea of the number of edible trees on campus, and how they were being used.”
“I learned about the internship when I was volunteering with the School of Sustainability, trying to get a farmers market in Tempe. Then I started volunteering for the ASU Grounds Department, and I planted an herb garden near the Student Services Building.”
Idriss and the other class members spent many hours last month picking Seville oranges, which were donated to a primate center and zoo in the Valley.
“Students were very curious about what we were doing,” she says. “It’s making them more aware of what plants there are on the campus.”
Hanson said the internship is providing “hands-on experience in integrating ideas about sustainability that the students read about,” and opening their eyes to the possibilities of growing and consuming food on campus.
“They’re getting a sense of the inflow and outflow,” Hanson says.