Garden Harvest for the Pantry

  • Posted on: 2 May 2020
  • By: msmolins

Spring 2020 hallmarks a decade of harvests from the University of Maryland Community Learning Garden. Started in 2010 as a graduate student project, the Community Learning Garden (CLG) is now a joint venture among undergraduates, graduates, faculty, and staff, working together to encourage the UMD community to see green spaces in new ways and to use them to their fullest capacities. In the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, the CLG has taken this mission to heart. Dedicated staff are working tirelessly to ensure that not only is the garden maintained but that its capabilities are maximized. While campus is eerily still and almost empty, the CLG continues to find meaningful ways to serve our campus community, most impactful is its contributions to the UMD Campus Pantry.  When the CLG team heard that the demand for the Campus Pantry’s provisions was increasing due to the health crisis, immediately, it was decided that all produce harvested from the Garden will be donated to the Campus Pantry in 2020

The Community Learning Garden is led by UMD’s Institute of Applied Agriculture and the campus Arboretum and Botanical Garden with support from Dining Services, the Office of Sustainability, School of Public Health, RecWell, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Facilities Management. Under normal circumstances, each semester there are hundreds of students, staff and faculty who volunteer to plant, prune, weed, plan, water, and harvest the garden’s herbs and vegetables. However, given the current situation with COVID-19 and Governor Hogan’s Stay-at-Home order, UMD employees, Meg Smolinski, Outreach Coordinator with the UMD Arboretum & Botanical Gardens, and Meredith Epstein, Senior Lecturer and Advisor with the UMD Institute of Applied Agriculture, are shouldering the majority of the garden’s upkeep and output, with remote assistance provided by student volunteers, and on-site helper, graduate student, Ruby Dessiatoun. “Even though the CLG student volunteers aren't on campus right now, they are still critical to the garden's success,” says Epstein. “Remotely, they are doing essential tasks like developing a food safety plan, writing grant proposals, and keeping the Community Learning Garden social media accounts alive and well.”

As a Facilities Management essential employee, Meg Smolinski continues to work on campus periodically and is able to commit time to the physical care of the garden, including harvesting twice a week for the campus pantry. While Epstein is working predominantly from home, she is able to provide guidance, devise planting plans and schedules, and order supplies remotely. Additionally, Meredith travels to campus on Fridays to assist with harvests.  “Meredith and I are in constant communication with the team. Even though we aren’t all working side-by-side, we are able to work together effectively,” says Smolinski.  “Taking care of the Community Learning Garden is a tremendous amount of work without the help of our dedicated CLG volunteers physically on site, however, it has become a true labor of love for all of us—especially since we’re directly helping the UMD community through our partnership with the Campus Pantry.” 

The UMD Campus Pantry was founded by Dining Services to alleviate food insecurity among UMD-College Park students, faculty and staff by providing emergency food to community members in need. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the pantry has adjusted its operations to be able to continue safely supporting the community’s expanded needs.  

“We are thrilled to be able to provide all of the fresh vegetables and herbs from the Garden, like spinach and pea shoots. It can add some diversity to the Pantry’s offering,” says Epstein. “Being able to share our harvest is at the heart of the Community Learning Garden’s core mission!”     

 (Photo taken before COVID outbreak)

Written by Katie Grimes, FM Strategic Communications Officer