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Sustainable Gardening in the Fox Cities: SLUG

Posted on July 12, 2017 by Grace Reif

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This week, I interviewed the woman who got me into sustainable gardening in the first place: Jenny Hanrahan. Jenny is a rising senior at Lawrence and the garden manager of SLUG, or Sustainable Lawrence University Garden. Jenny and I talked about the ins and outs of SLUG, what it means to be sustainable, and what we can all do to be conscious of our environmental impact.

Grace Reif: Can you tell us a little bit about SLUG?

Jenny Hanrahan: So SLUG is a quarter-acre plot of land on the Lawrence University campus that was taken over by an environmental studies class in 2005 to become a little playground/testing place/experiment in sustainable agriculture. And it has many things in it! It has its own composting system, about thirty full-size beds that are between thirty and fifty feet long and we have five smaller beds that are around ten feet. We call those the kiddo beds. We have a food forest with apple and pear trees, we’re starting a trellising system on the hill, and we have an apiary behind one of the residence halls. So we’ve got many many things in this here garden.

GR: What’s your favorite thing about gardening?

JH: Two things! The first is that it’s very rewarding. This is my third summer staying on campus and it’s rewarding in the first place just to grow things and have the fruits of your labor to eat, and they are very delicious. And it’s also especially fun to stay in the summer because you get to see the entire process, from planting in the spring to maintaining in the summer and putting the beds to sleep in the fall, which is what we call the process of taking everything out and preparing the beds for winter. It’s very satisfying to see that whole cycle. And then my other favorite thing is the community aspect of gardening with people and then cooking the vegetables with people after, because everyone’s very enthusiastic.

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Jenny, the Garden Goddess

GR: What would you say to gardening beginners? Any tips about starting?

JH: I would say just don’t be afraid, just go for it. I came here with absolutely no experience and kind of made my way through by leaning on the people around me who did know what they were doing. So first of all, everyone who gardens that I’ve met loves to talk about gardening, so find a person who loves to garden and they will talk to you about it. And the internet is a wealth of information. I wouldn’t be afraid of making mistakes, because plants die and that’s just a thing that happens, and then you learn what doesn’t work. What we’re constantly doing in the garden is making many mistakes and then learning from them. We learn by doing.

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Not quite a garden goddess, but learning! So far my favorite part of the garden is posing with this straw hat

GR: How would you define sustainability?

JH: For me personally, I think sustainability on a larger scale is very complicated. I’ve had a really great experience at this school with the garden and with the co-op learning how to try and live sustainably while also having a safety net of funds provided by the school so that I can fail, so I can figure out exactly how to do it. Sustainability to me is existing in a way that is, well, sustainable: it has a minimal impact on the environment, it is equitable and just for people and the world. I think it’s a lot easier to explain sustainability in terms of eating and living, like with our co-op. SLUG has a house on campus with a cooperative meal plan for eight students, so sustainable living in that way would be shopping locally, supporting local farmers. Because then you’re not paying money to have trucks transport tomatoes from California, it’s more environmentally friendly and you’re supporting your local community. Also just trying to live with minimal waste, like composting food scraps, all those types of things that help sustain the community and planet. It’s easy to look at it from the stance of environmental justice, but it’s important to expand that to human rights and food justice. It’s not sustainable if to try and live sustainably but also buy pounds upon pounds of quinoa that are exploiting workers in South America. Do as best you can with sustainability. A lot of people think that they can’t live sustainably because they can’t afford it, and that’s totally valid, because who can afford to buy organic things from Whole Foods all the time? Do what you can. Go to the farmers market when you can, live as sustainably as you can within your means. And take into account and be aware of what your actions mean and how they are connected with each other. One of the things that I’ve been learning in SLUG is becoming aware of those things.

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Happy plants in the SLUG hoop house

Though SLUG is affiliated with Lawrence, community members can get involved in multiple ways. If you’re more interested in the cooking and eating part of sustainability, you can pop by SLUG every Wednesday from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. to purchase from our latest harvest of greens and assorted veggies. If 8:00 is a little early for the summer, SLUG will also be selling vegetables outside of the Warch Campus Center on Wednesdays from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

To garden along with us, volunteers are welcome during garden hours, which are 6:00 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday.

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