Guys… did you know we have a community garden??
The UNLV Community Garden is situated on the Northwest corner of campus on Cottage Grove next to the Rebel Recycling Center. A quaint little square boasting just a few hundred acres, you would probably never come across it unless you were looking; but once you do, it is a site worth seeing.
The garden was officially established in 2015 through the combined effort of the UNLV Community Garden Committee and several landscape architecture classes. It features 41 raised planter beds, each of which may be purchased and applied for by different student organizations or individuals — and yes, SNDA has their very own, featuring some yummy kale, of course.
What happens at the garden? A lot, according to Elissa Lafranconi, the garden coordinator who will soon be returning the garden to the original coordinator Tara Pike. Along with inviting field trips for children from pre-k through high school, the garden also hosts the Girl Scouts to help them earn their Gardening, Bug, Planting and Sense Badges by having fun with garden activities. Students enrolled in the horticulture class in the landscape architecture program are tasked with tending the garden several weekends at a time to enrich their knowledge of growing and harvesting plants, and the Hospitality department often uses the garden’s fruits and veggies in their catering recipes. However, the Community Garden, Elissa explains, has served as a learning experience for students in every department from Physics and Chemistry to English and a variety of organizations like the UNLV Foundation, the Student Sustainability Council, and SNDA.
An especially huge happening that is coming up in a few short months is the 555 Dinner at Vegenation, in which 5 executive chefs prepare a 5-course dinner using plants harvested from community gardens across the valley and benefiting the Create a Change Now organization. The UNLV Community Garden held their “planting day” on February 12th and will be hosting their “harvesting day” on May 4th for the vegetables and fruits that will be used in the dinner.
Michael Hernandez, a landscape architecture student and the student worker for the community garden, takes great pride and care in the garden; he boasts his own planter in the garden featuring aromatic lavender and delicious asparagus. While speaking with Michael, I learned about the garden’s unique challenges with vandals, who may graffiti the surrounding tarp fence or even set dumpster fires near the vicinity. The addition of security cameras and card readers has helped prevent some more serious situations, but it’s still an ongoing issue, he explains.
Michael has big dreams that the influence of the Community Garden will “take over” campus, despite its remote location. Every student can gain something valuable from the garden, whether it’s new knowledge about planting, a new sense of community, or an appreciation of the garden’s plants. His first effort to make this happen is his creation of the UNLV Garden Club, which will include organizing meetings at the garden and promoting events (and which anyone can join, by the way!).
Michael also plans for the garden to have a more pleasing aesthetic appearance, with the addition of artfully-painted benches, chairs, and tables:
Another essential member of the garden team is their Master Gardener, Tom Bohannon. During my time at the garden a few weeks ago, I got to help Tom with moving and separating compost as he explained some of the garden’s other challenges. He explained that ants, followed by aphids, often infiltrate the crops and leave their sticky sap all over them. On a creepier note, spiders (including black widows!) sometimes take refuge in the compost bins and can surprise the unsuspecting gardener. For now, their arsenal is garlic or peppermint oil spray to annoy the little bugs and chase them away, and the planting of calendula flowers to deter the aphids from the main plants.
So if you find time, it’s definitely worth it to venture to the far side of campus and check out the UNLV Community Garden.