Mariana Cardenas (she/her/ella) of the Rowan Environmental Action League (REAL) discusses how Rowan University’s Community Garden helps fight food insecurity on campus. Mariana is a Rowan Global student in the M.A. in Diversity and Inclusion program. She earned her degree here at Rowan in Psychology with a Sociology minor and a Certificate of Undergraduate Study in Social Justice and Social Change.
The Rowan Environmental Action League (REAL) has spent the past couple of years establishing a Community Garden near Willow Hall between Magnolia Hall and the Edgewood Park Apartments.
The garden is easily identified by the 10-foot-tall sunflowers in the frontmost bed and is home to an abundance of produce.
Mariana Cardenas, the Community Garden Chair for REAL and an M.A. student in Diversity and Inclusion through Rowan Global, says the mission of this space is “to have a garden with all edible foods to provide for the Rowan community.”
What is your role as Community Garden Chair?
“Part of my role is fostering relationships to enhance the garden and get materials. We have people that provide plants for us, and we have a close relationship with Facilities because they’re the ones who give us permission to expand. They’ve provided some really incredible resources such as picnic tables and a hose.
“We also received a raincatcher that collects rain from off of the Edgewood Apartment building roof —which was really great — but when it didn’t rain we didn’t have water for the plants. The sunflowers, especially, need a lot of water. Before this, we would take a bucket of water from the lake, and that was a real pain, but thankfully we don’t have to do that anymore thanks to the help of Facilities.
“Another one of my responsibilities as Community Garden Chair is to schedule volunteers to help with the management of the garden — there’s a lot that goes into it. Not just picking the fruit, but also weeding, watering, and then having someone to bring the stuff over to The Shop.”
The four garden beds host a variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs, such as: beans, different types of peppers, herbs, cabbage and an assortment of berries. Not only does the garden help feed Rowan students, it also provides for pollinators on campus with milkweed plants. There is also a plenitude of tomatoes that Maria encourages anyone to come pick.
What is the Community Garden’s connection with The Shop?
“I volunteer with The Shop on Thursdays. It’s a food pantry for Rowan students, open Mondays and Fridays from 12:00 to 4:00 pm. Students can go in and shop, and there’s no checkout at the end.
I take things over most of the time, so I’ll pick what’s ready and I’ll typically take it to my apartment and then bring it over the next day when The Shop is open. By now, we’ve donated about 75 pounds of food.
We know food insecurity is a huge problem, not only on Rowan’s campus, but across the country. This is just one of the resources that students can engage in to be mindful and help provide for other students.
I’m in the master’s of Diversity and Inclusion [program], I’m very passionate about breaking down barriers to success. And for me, my research has focused on how food insecurity affects people’s ability to be successful. So being involved in something that is able to help solve and alleviate those problems, has been a really incredible experience to tie my volunteer work with my academic work.”
The Community Garden is just one of REAL’s projects, as they also do campus clean ups and provide education about bettering both ourselves and the community through environmental action. The club puts an emphasis on the simple things we can do in our own lives that have a positive impact—the garden being an example of such.
How many people actively participate in taking care of the garden?
“This changes around the season, right now in the summer, since there are a lot of people off campus, I would say we have about four to five people coming around to do some weeding, watering, and harvesting. Throughout the semester, we have more garden maintenance days, and we’ll maybe have up to ten, fifteen people out here putting in new top soil, and more heavy-duty planting.
“We’ve also had people reach out to us. There was a professor, Dr. Patrick Kirby, who has an engineering clinic and offered to help us with things. So we had some conversations about helping with optimal irrigation for the plants and looking to extend the season of the plants by getting some covers.”
The first REAL meeting of the fall 2022 semester will be every other Thursday from 5-6 p.m. in Discovery 227.
There is also Fresh for All, where students and community members can pick up fresh produce at no cost every Friday from 10-11 a.m. in Parking Lot D on Rowan’s campus.
See our video on the Fresh for All program here:
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Skyla Everwine, senior English and writing arts major
Joseph Conte, junior community and environmental planning major