Video by Aaron Mathey
The Castanea garden is the first-ever edible forest at a UNC system school, providing free food through plant growth for UNC Asheville’s vibrant community, but much of it is being wasted due to the lack of student engagement in the garden.
Manager of UNCA’s Castanea garden Naomi Todd said her experience working at the garden allows her to engage in UNCA’s sustainability efforts and projects.
“My favorite part of working in the garden is probably having been able to work in this land for a year now. It is really beautiful to see the garden throughout the seasons and I’ve seen every step of the growing produce. It’s been cool seeing the cycle happen and I enjoyed meeting all the people that come here and sharing the space with them,” she said.
The garden is a place where people who have never gardened before can come to learn about gardening, composting and growing their own food.
Todd said that students should benefit from this learning experience that creates a lot of social interaction and provides them fresh food.
“One of our goals is to grow food for students and faculty and community members who need it. Students can come here and take whatever they want or need. That is the point of the garden and the food that we grow. Also making connections with people and bringing them together while learning about everything that goes into having a garden space,” Todd said.
Todd calls on the UNCA community to support the garden and welcomes everyone to get involved and help as it proves difficult to maintain the garden’s production on her own.
“I always need people to come out and help. I am the only person working here and it is a lot of work for just myself. I always love when people come and meet new people, and there are always things to work on. I would appreciate all the help I can get,” she said.
One of the largest issues Todd faces while working at the garden comes from the major imbalance between how much food is produced compared to how little is actually consumed.
Todd said she encourages students and faculty to make use of the garden and benefit from its production instead of letting it go to waste.
“There is a lot of free food in the gardens and take advantage of it because a lot of it goes to waste. So while you have the opportunity to, come get your produce,” Todd said.
UNCA takes part in numerous events that advertise environmental sustainability efforts and encourage students to build an eco-friendly environment, including the week-long annual Greenfest and the spring semester Green Olympics waste reduction competition between UNCA’s dorms. The on-campus gardens also serve as another opportunity for students to play a role in UNCA’s extensive sustainability efforts.
The Castanea garden contains a variety of produce and herbs, including numerous patches of plants used for teas such as lemon balm and mint. The North Carolina state fruit is the Scuppernong grape, and similar grapes are available in the garden. Additionally, there are multiple herbal plants that each have their own utilities.
Todd said she and other students involved with campus sustainability continue to create new garden-centered projects.
“I am working on spreading new wood chips, getting the compost more under control, doing some fall planting and some harvesting soon. It really depends on the season,” she said.
According to Todd, there are different durations to each plant’s life span. There are annuals which last only a season, perennials which come back every year and even plants that maintain and restore micronutrients to the soil such as buckwheat or oats.
“Right now I’m growing potatoes, sweet potatoes, spinach, winter greens, winter squash, pumpkin and watermelon. Those are annuals. I also have a lot of perennials which are plants that stay around the whole year and don’t die. Generally that means a lot of herbs so I have lavender, chamomile and basil,” Todd said.
For more information on the Castanea garden and to see Todd at work, check out the video attached above.