UT Recycling has opened the Grow Lab, a campus garden that serves as an outdoor classroom and hub for community engagement while working to address local food insecurity. The garden’s harvest will be donated to a food pantry to provide free nutritious food for students in need.
The Grow Lab, located on the corner of Terrace Avenue and 21st Street, is not an average campus garden. Rather, it is an outdoor laboratory that gives faculty the opportunity to engage in outdoor teaching and research. Students will get their hands dirty in an immersive learning experience while also giving back to the campus community.
UT Recycling is partnering with the campus food pantry, Smokey’s Pantry, to distribute the harvest.
“We have this natural assumption that if you come to college, you can afford food, and that is just not the case,” said Food Systems Coordinator and AmeriCorps VISTA member Leah McCord.
This living laboratory includes 12 garden beds. Classes and clubs can reserve plots to conduct research and engage in community service.
Plans are already in the works to expand in the near future. The expansion will include the construction of additional beds, a pavilion, and a greenhouse and will involve students from a variety of disciplines such as architecture and landscape design.
Departments and organizations across campus, including the Department of Nutrition, the UT Culinary Institute, Hodges Library, and the Office of Sustainability, have already shown their support for the Grow Lab and are committed to helping the project reach its goals.
Associate Professor of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science Joanne Logan has already reserved plots for her environmental climatology class this semester. They will be studying the effects of air and soil temperature on bean seedling germination and establishment. Logan has shown her support for the Grow Lab from the beginning.
“We were able to brainstorm the ideas we had about using the Grow Lab and how to tie course curricula and learning outcomes to the work in the garden,” Logan said.
In addition to providing food and educational opportunities for students, the Grow Lab aims to promote sustainability.
“UT Recycling is very dedicated to reducing our environmental impact, reducing our landfill stream, and making sure that somebody benefits on the other end of that,” said McCord.
Organizers hope the Grow Lab becomes a strong force in UT’s ongoing sustainability and conservation campaign by illustrating the importance of using compost and promoting ecological food production methods to the local community.
McCord said UT Recycling needs the support and involvement of faculty and student organizations to keep the project moving forward.
“We want everybody to be involved,” McCord explained. “We want every department that can think of any reason to be involved to be there.”
Katherine Saxon (865-974-8365, firstname.lastname@example.org)