Members of the Cornell community gathered outside the Plant Science building Thursday for the opening of Cornell Garden-Based Learning’s first demonstration garden — a project aimed at teaching students how to grow and care for vegetable crops.
A division of the Cornell Cooperative Extension, Cornell Garden-Based Learning seeks to promote ecological gardening by planting different varieties of vegetable, herb and flower seeds and implementing techniques to improve soil health.
The garden is one of 20 created statewide for the Vegetable Variety Trial, a project lead by Steve Gabriel, an extension program aide in the Department of Horticulture. The project seeks to teach students and community members about the variety of plants and techniques available to gardeners operating on a small scale.
“We decided this year to initiate a statewide demonstration of two things,” Gabriel said. “One is to just raise awareness that there’s actually different varieties of vegetables out there, and the other part is the ecological garden, which uses different techniques to promote soil health in the garden … So we’re kind of mixing the two in this demonstration.”
According to Gabriel, home gardening is not always about producing the highest quantity of vegetables possible. It is also about appreciating the experience of growing a garden, he said.
“For a home gardener, growing a white carrot can be more exciting than growing a traditional orange one,” Gabriel said.
According to Gabriel, the project grew out of feedback from a statewide survey that was sent out to all cooperative extension offices earlier this year. The results concluded that Cornell Garden-Based Learning initiatives could benefit from implementing more hands-on work in their programs.
“We do a lot of education and a lot of classes, but we’re not necessarily demonstrating. People in offices really wanted to demonstrate something,” Gabriel said.
Gabriel said that the demonstrations, conducted in small garden plots across the state, will also help expand Cornell Garden-Based Learning’s database, Vegetable Varieties for Gardeners. The database currently holds 6,000 different vegetable varieties.
“We grew a bunch of the plants here and sent seeds out to all the extension offices, basically trying to coordinate efforts,” Gabriel said. “In future years, because everyone will have the garden set up, we’ll be able to coordinate further and do minor research … This year is really just about getting things going.”
Much of the organization’s initiative revolve around increasing general awareness about sustainable gardening, students involved in the project said.
“Garden-based learning educates kids about gardening and getting closer to the environment by reflecting outside and learning outside,” said Bella Harold ’15, a student assistant for the project. “We provide materials to teachers and educators that they can use to teach in their school garden, community garden, start-up projects or even in their garden at home.”
Hands-on learning is central to both the educational programs offered by Cornell Garden-Based Learning and the work students involved in the program do, said Carla Stoffel ’12, a student assistant for the project.
“I hope people get more aware of how fun gardening can be and how important it is to do outdoor activities and how you don’t always need to be indoors all the time studying and doing homework,” Stoffel said. “You can take a break and be outside no matter what the weather is, and I think that doing something for the environment is good for peace of mind.”
Leaders of the Garden-Based Learning initiative hope to target students and community members who may not have any prior gardening knowledge. Stoffel, for instance, said she was hired partially because of her lack of gardening experience.
“They wanted a pair of eyes that was new to gardening so that I could assess the fact sheets that they’re going to be publishing,” Stoffel said.
Leaders of the Vegetable Variety Trial hope to host events for the public in their garden throughout the summer. According to Gabriel, the events will range from “how to go from a lawn to a garden” to “yoga in the garden.” The group also plans on collaborating with Dilmun Hill, Cornell’s student-run organic farm.