As the sweet potatoes and green beans are being harvested in preparation for the coming of icy winter, the crisp fall air can be felt in the Campus Garden. This is a place where volunteers and community members, all part of the local university community, come together to cultivate all kinds of growth.
The Campus Garden at Wake Forest is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. The garden is an organized space for students to volunteer and learn, as well as a space where members of the community can learn what it truly means to grow and eat sustainably.
The New York Times reported that, since 1985, over two-thirds of all protein in American meals comes from animal products, primarily cattle. They also reported that those animals can eat up to eight pounds of grain for just one pound of meat, while also releasing a multitude of dangerous greenhouse gasses into the air.
Shifting from a meat centered diet to a plant-forward diet can be one of the greatest impacts on climate change that an individual consumer can have. As methane and carbon emissions continue to rise, cutting out meat from some — if not all — meals can assist in greatly reducing those emissions, especially methane.
Nathan Peifer, the Campus Garden manager, is focusing on sustainable gardening techniques that not only create healthy food for consumption, but that also reduce emissions and environmental impact. Peifer also works to educate the Wake Forest community about how climate change relates to sustainable gardening and eating.
“We’ve had 20-plus classes come out to the garden this semester,” Peifer said. “They do everything from semester-long projects to just coming out for a tour, and we connect what they’re learning about in class to sustainable agriculture.”
Peifer and the other garden volunteers also partner with Campus Kitchen to provide produce for the meals that Campus Kitchen packages for community members. In addition to this, Campus Kitchen returns all food waste to the garden to be composted, which is one of many sustainable practices the garden takes part in.
“Through volunteering in the garden, I have realized how important composting can be. Usually most of my food waste ends up in the landfill,” said sophomore Karl Gustafson, cultivation leader and garden volunteer. “Now I try and compost whenever I can so that I can divert waste from the landfill and create soil that will help our crops in the garden grow.”
The goal of the garden is not only to grow healthy crops and practice sustainable gardening techniques, it also aims to educate students, faculty and staff about the importance of eating a plant-forward diet.
“The responsibility of the individual consumer is to be educated on the impact of what they’re eating,” said Brian Cohen, program coordinator for the Office of Sustainability. “We’re not going to sit here and say, ‘you can’t eat that, you should eat this instead,’ but hopefully everyone will make educated decisions.”
Opportunities for students to volunteer and learn in the garden have recently expanded. Peifer and other volunteers created what is called the Cultivation Leadership Team, which consists of 15 student volunteers who hold garden volunteer hours every day of the week.
“The emphasis when students come out [to the garden] is on climate education,” Peifer said. “We emphasize the way our food decisions impact climate change.”
“It is easy to grow your own food and more fulfilling nutritionally,” said Julia Stevens, senior cultivation leader and garden volunteer.
Stevens said that working in the garden also inspired her to put a greater emphasis on eating more locally grown food, rather than processed, inorganic foods.
“Before I volunteered in the garden, I did not really eat vegetables or salads or anything like that,” said Gustafson. “However, once I saw how they were grown and tasted fresh ones, I realized that vegetables were not so bad. I definitely eat more than I did before.”
The emphasis that the Campus Garden puts on sustainable gardening practices ultimately allows students to understand the brevity of climate change and the opportunities that individual consumers have to fight against the impending climate crisis.
“From a climate change standpoint, every little bit adds up,” Cohen said. “Every bit of carbon that we can prevent from going into the atmosphere makes a difference.”