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Sunday, April 14, 2024
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After moving house, the Community Garden is here to stay

Updates to equipment and location suggest a bright future for this beloved space

American University’s student-run Community Garden is back and better than ever in a new location this semester. The garden, which was originally located behind Bender Arena, has officially moved into a new space between the Katzen Arts Center and Nebraska Hall.

The announcement of AU’s new Student Thriving Complex displaced the garden, as the project is set to be built on top of its previous location.

Kat Raiano, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, is one of the co-presidents of the AU Community Garden and helped coordinate the location change. Despite bumps in the road at the beginning of the moving process, Raiano said that the actual move to the new location has gone smoothly.

Raiano learned in the spring 2022 semester that the garden would have to be moved for construction. The club then had an initial meeting with one of the architects for the Student Thriving Complex project.

“It went very badly. We all left crying. [The architect] was very disrespectful and we didn’t have a lot of hope,” they said.

Thankfully, the collaboration process for the move turned around this year.

“Things didn’t really start moving until this fall, when we regularly started meeting with the projects department, and pretty much putting everything we needed into action,” Raiano said. 

“That process has been wonderful. Jonathan [McCann] has been amazing … and has been really receptive to our needs. Facilities Management and Mike Mastrota have been really, really great,” they said.

McCann is the University’s assistant vice president for planning & project management. Mastrota, the University’s arboretum manager, spoke about his experience working with the garden during his time at the University.

“We’ve been [working with them] ever since, gosh, three, four years ago when they really got active and formed,” Mastrota said. 

Mastrota and his team help with some of the garden’s activities and provide materials when needed. 

During the garden’s location change, Mastrota said his team has been collaborating frequently with the Community Garden. His department was tasked with helping to select the new location, and Mastrota and his team considered multiple possibilities.

“It was tough because it needs to be a certain size, it needs to be a sunny location,” he said. “We love trees, so that limits where sunny spots can be.”

When narrowing down a space, Mastrota and his team found some particularly interesting locations. 

“One of them was actually on the [Katzen] Green Roof. We ended up not going with that option because there wasn’t enough soil depth. It’s pretty shallow there and limited things like putting up a fence,” Mastrota said. “The spot we selected I think everyone’s happy with. It’s a really good location, plenty of sun.”

Facilities Management then made updates to the final location to prepare it for the new garden.

“We had to move a couple of trees out of the way to create some more sun and more space,” Mastrota said. “It’s actually a little bit bigger than I think they had before, and it’s much nicer.”

“We’re definitely a lot happier with the space that they’ve given us. It seems like it’s going to be a lot bigger than the normal garden,” Raiano said. 

The location of the garden is not the only new thing community members can be excited about.

“[Facilities Management] gave us aluminum beds, which should last a lot longer and look really nice,” Raiano said. 

Previously, the garden housed their plants in wooden beds that were falling apart as the wood was unsealed. The chemicals used to treat wood weren’t safe for the club to use so close to the produce. The club has also replaced an overhang with a shed that locks, Raiano said.

The shed is an exciting upgrade for the club, who in the past had some supplies missing or broken from it. Other additions to the space include a new composting system and new trellises for plants to grow on.

“We were worried that [the University] would just kind of give us a little bit of, like, space and be like ‘figure it out,’ whereas now we’ve been meeting with Projects and they’ve been really receptive,” Raiano said about their collaboration with staff on this project.

“This space has really come together with a lot of the things we knew we needed and a lot of the things that people have asked for.”

This article was edited by Clair Sapilewski, Sara Winick and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Luna Jinks, Isabelle Kravis and Charlie Mennuti.

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