When you see a garden bursting with beautiful flowers and fresh produce, many stand to admire and indulge in the product. However, while eating these foods, commonly you don’t see the face that nourished these plants before they came into your possession.
Mariana Cardenas is one of the faces behind the seeds. A master’s student in the Diversity and Inclusion from Bergen County, NJ, Mariana graduated with a psychology major, sociology minor, and has a Social Justice and Social Change certificate.
The Community Garden by Edgewood Park Apartments is run by Rowan Environmental Action League, known as REAL, where Mariana holds the position of garden chair. Some of the work that REAL does consists of campus clean-ups, tote bag decorating day, and education about bettering the value of life and one’s community through environmental action.
The community garden is open to students and members of the Glassboro community. She described her role at the garden to be “fostering relationships to enhance the garden, as well as getting materials.” She went on to illustrate what other work goes on at the garden, saying, “We have people that provide plants to us, we also have a close relationship with facilities because they’re the ones who give us permission to expand. They’ve provided some really incredible resources (picnic tables, hoses).
“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 any more thanks to the help of Facilities. Aside from sunflowers the garden also grows strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, kale, broccoli, cabbage, and beans. The salsa garden grows banana peppers, Thai chili peppers, reaper peppers, a variety of tomatoes, beets, and celery. The herb garden sprouts lemon balm, mint, and more!”
Another one of Mariana’s responsibilities is to schedule volunteers to help with the management of the garden itself. She made a note to add that this job is “not just picking the fruit, but also weeding, watering, and then having someone to bring the stuff over to The Shop, Rowan’s on campus food pantry for students, and tending to the compost bin as well.
“This changes around the season. Right now in the summer, since there are many 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, or 15 people out here putting in new topsoil, and more heavy-duty planting.”
Mariana shared campus reach and involvement, saying, “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.”
Continuing on, Mariana encourages students to attend REAL meetings, which are posted through ProfLink and are typically held every other Thursday from 5 pm to 6 pm in Discovery Hall.
For students and community members seeking food assistance or a volunteering opportunity (or both), Fresh for All, a partnership with Philabundance, distributes fresh produce at no cost every Friday from 10 am to 11 am in parking lot D (corner by the athletic fields, across from Glassboro High School.)
The Community Garden mission is have a garden with all edible foods to provide to the Rowan community. The garden is aware that food insecurity is a huge problem, not only on Rowan’s campus but across the country. That being said, the garden is just one of the resources that students can engage in to be mindful and help provide for other students.
With the REAL having such a vast team of student volunteers Marina estimates that they’ve donated around 75 pounds worth of food to The Shop, an incredible feat.
Mariana is passionate about breaking down barriers to success and has personally focused her research 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 her volunteer work with her academic work.
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Asiya Robinson, rising senior writing arts major