What was once an acre of dying hemlock trees, vines, and poison ivy has quickly transformed into a area where beans, corn, herbs, tomatoes, squash and dozens of other kinds of vegetables are thriving. As part of a project to help support the community and help educate students about agriculture, a group of volunteers are dedicating themselves to cultivating a garden on Edwards Street near Prospect Avenue.

“It’s incredibly fun and it’s a way to make the community richer,” said Joshua Viertel, a Yale employee involved in the Sustainable Food Project.

Just walking through the garden, it becomes apparent how diverse the plants are. Seeds are selected regularly through local farmers as well as from various catalogues. The wide selection allows the group to choose between 12 kinds of basil, as well as other unique types of vegetables, such as grumolous and mache.

“There are some unique advantages, since we don’t have to worry about a known market,” Dreier said. “We can experiment with some fun and interesting crops people don’t know about.”

In addition to regular white cauliflower, the garden boasts patches of purple cauliflower, yellow cauliflower and cauliflowers that grow in fractal-like patterns.

The organic garden project began last year when Laura Hess ’06, Katherine Sims ’05 and Lucas Dreier ’04 created a proposal for a garden. The three of them worked to gain the support of professors and administrators.

“I’ve always dreamt of having a school garden,” Dreier said.

According to Dreier, it was not until Berkeley College decided to switch to organic food and the Sustainable Food Project began that the garden became a reality. It was then that Viertel joined them in managing the garden in May.

“When we started in May, this place was just full of dying hemlock trees,” Dreier said.

After clearing the area, volunteers and interns worked throughout the summer and fall to cultivate the garden. Most of the produce goes to a local farmer’s market and to the Berkeley dining hall.

Currently the organic gardening group has an e-mail list of more than 200 volunteers and two dozen regular members.

“What’s real impressive is that you have undergrads with full lives who are up at 7:30 [a.m.] Wednesday and Saturday all through the fall,” Viertel said. “That’s a real mark of enthusiasm.”

This month volunteers are helping to construct greenhouses so that they can continue growing vegetables during the winter.

With a groundbreaking year behind them, volunteers for the organic garden said they hope to experiment more with the land and new plants.

Managers are currently finding new ways to fertilize the soil — in the future, they said they hope to use Yale’s landscape refuse and turn it into compost. Yale spends large amounts of money renting trucks to get rid of leaves, Viertel said, which could be disposed of easily and with less money as compost for the garden.

“[The garden] takes an item which is an expensive waste stream and turns it into a useful resource,” Viertel said.

The group plans to use the waste in the dining halls as well to create compost, in order to make food services energy efficient and cost effective.

“We want to demonstrate that gardening is not just a hobby, but an economically viable way of living,” Viertel said.

While the garden offers an educational experience as well as an opportunity to cultivate fresh produce, it also provides a chance for students to make a tangible difference.

“It really lets students demonstrate how much they can add to the community,” said Melina Shannon-Dipietro, a Yale employee involved with the Sustainable Food Project.

Other future plans for the volunteers look beyond just fruits and vegetables. Cara Berkowitz ’05, a volunteer gardener, said the group hopes to build a brick oven to bake bread.

Within a matter of months the group has turned a lot full of dying hemlock trees and vines into a colorful garden. But members say the real reward comes from seeing people taste the fruits of their labor.

“What’s fun is that people are always blown away by how good the food is,” Dreier said. “It’s just so fresh and alive when you taste it.”

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