Stacie Bailey hauls a load of wood chips at the Southern Oregon University community garden Thursday. Organizers are improving the look of the garden, thanks to a boost in their budget from the student activity fee fund. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Jim Craven

SOU garden gets a makeover

The greenhouse at Southern Oregon University looks like a caterpillar crawling toward curved rows of sprouting vegetation. The garden fence stands straighter, and the gate latch no longer sticks.

SOU's community garden received practical and aesthetic improvements this year because of increased funding, said Alex Golden, garden coordinator for the past four years.

Developed by the Ecology Center of the Siskiyous about a decade ago, the garden is funded through student activity fees, said Golden. Until this year's $5,000 budget, the garden received $500 or less annually, he said.

Danielle Mancuso, Commuter Resource Center interim coordinator, and Rushton Johnson, director of Student Life, were two of many who worked for increased funding.

Johnson said he felt the campus garden did not aesthetically reflect the message of openness and education before the improvements.

The sagging fence, uneven pathways and overall ramshackle appearance were misrepresentations of the garden's purpose, he said. Johnson's vision of an aesthetically pleasing educational garden helped push the funding through, said Golden.

Johnson said the garden was a worthwhile endeavor for several reasons.

"Students can provide for and meet a real need, food, which is the epitome of what a university should be providing — connected learning," Johnson said.

Golden, Johnson and other resident gardeners share a vision of educational gardening in which experienced growers share their knowledge with students and new gardeners.

The garden is open to students and community members, said ECOS Co-director Benji Nagel.

"This is the first glance some people get at where food comes from," said Nagel. "That is exciting."

The $5,000 turned out to be more than the garden coordinators needed, said Golden, though he did not provide an exact figure of how much was spent.

The extra funding will be reallocated to the campus compost program, in which biodegradable plates and trays from SOU's cafeterias are broken down into fertilizer, and other projects through ECOS.

Golden said he purchased more and better tools, revamped the greenhouse and rebuilt the fence. Small aesthetic changes, such as wood chip-lined paths, were combined with practical additions, such as hoses, shovels and other tools.

Low-income families, single mothers, college students and high school students use the garden, said Golden. Community members pay for their own water, seed and soil.

Education is a key component of the garden, with resident gardeners often teaching students, Golden said.

Medford Opportunity High School students have worked in the garden as part of the Medford Youth Cooperative since 2007. Students involved in the Job Council program are learning companion planting, crop rotation and other basics and have created new beds in the garden, said Golden.

Johnson sees the garden's future as an educational center for sustainability, open to anyone in the community.

"This is entirely possible in the short-term," said Johnson. "There are exceptionally talented and dedicated students working in the garden."

Johnson foresees expanding on Golden's program by selling educational packages to students and community members. Summer workshops and other events throughout the year will focus on gardening and sustainable living.

While Johnson sees the practical side of community gardening, Golden takes a broader view. Gardeners exist on a spectrum of pragmatism, idealism and spiritualism, he said, from the practicality of growing what you eat to the spirituality of communing with what you eat to the idealism of saving the world one vegetable at a time, he said. Regardless of what kind of gardener you are, he said, "the romance lies in eating."

Becky Gilmer is a Southern Oregon University intern. Reach her at

Share This Story