Saint Michael's College Organic Garden

organic garden

The classic 60s folk-rock song "Woodstock" features a familiar chorus calling America's youth "back to the Garden," with a verse that could be an anthem for a growing band of dedicated student organic-gardeners at Saint Michael's College:

"Well maybe it is just the time of year, Or maybe it's the time of man. I don't know who I am, But you know life is for learning."

Life-learning was the impetus for an August 7 field trip by four students and their mentor Heather Ellis, the college sustainability director. All are summer tenders of the college's lush quarter-acre plot down by the Winooski River. They spent a morning at the tiny agriculture-focused Sterling College in Craftsbury and an afternoon at High Mowings Seed Company in Wolcott, where they buy seeds.

The day-trippers were Michael Carlin '13, this summer's "garden intern" for Ellis' office; Piper Krabenhoft '14, the summer-garden work-study student; Shawna McGowan '15, another summer intern funded through a national campus sustainability assessment program called STARS; and Mary Kate Gozemba '15, an Ellis work-study during the academic year. All four have worked 8-hour days (or longer) through the summer in the garden, and loved every minute.

On Wednesdays they bring their harvest to a stand across from the college chapel to sell colorful, robust produce with pleasingly lyrical names: Black Beauty Eggplant, Dragon Carrots, Vulcan Lettuce, Jade, Dragon and Red Swan bush beans, Purple Beauty Peppers, Two Dog River Garlic, and much more. "It's nice the first week back, the amount of students, faculty and staff that just crowd the farm stand," says Ellis. "We run into the second week in October, depending when we get a frost, and start early-season green deliveries again in June, then mid-to-end of July based on weather."

organic garden

Field-trip lessons ranged from the practical - trellis techniques or vegetable sampling - to a lunch with Sterling students to discuss living close to the land, putting the sustainable mindset into action. Ellis says interest is surging among college-aged students for agriculture study, particularly in New England, according to new studies. She sees Saint Michael's perhaps filling a niche with its already strong programs in "the political-social aspect of the food system," given existing faculty expertise and activism.

Vermont private college leaders have in recent years enacted a cross-registration arrangement to reap synergistic benefits economically and academically. One recent graduate spent a semester at Sterling for hands-on agriculture learning and earned credit, and more may follow. St. Mike's students also have proposed resurrecting an old garden that Society of St. Edmund priests once tilled down the hill by the Observatory decades ago. "It's a nice link to our traditions and could give us more to donate to the food shelf," Ellis says. Senior seminar students from Environmental Studies recently advocated a project to expand organic gardening at the college through classes, a larger garden and maybe a greenhouse. "There's a ton of interest among students, and we're just scratching the surface" says Ellis.


The Saint Michael's College Organic Garden was established in the summer of 2008 thanks to a group of students who recognized the importance of having space for the campus community to practice the art of organic gardening. With initial help from Physical Plant and support from the Environmental Council, Green Up and the Student Association, the Organic Garden has become a fully established program on campus and is now under the Office of Sustainability.

What's happening for the 2013 Growing Season!

The Organic Garden program has come leaps and bounds over the past five years.  Our focus on healthy soil-healthy bodies has really instructed us on how the program is run.  An interest in learning how to sustainably grow your own food has become increasingly clear among the staff, faculty and especially the students on campus.  This past semester, more than half of the seniors in our Environmental Studies program had concentrations that dealt with sustainable agriculture, organic gardening and local foods.  Having a space such as the Organic Garden provides our community with hands on experience to put what they learn in the classroom into action.

This year we utilized the Biology Department's greenhouse as well as a grow cart to start some of our seeds over the winter.  We started all of our tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, onions, cantaloupe, watermellon, and Broccoli. We also doubled the amount of garlic we planted as it did so well last year.  Just as we've done the previous seasons, we are continuing our row systems of planting which entails 4' beds and 3' walkways in an alternating patter across our entire ¼ acre main garden plot. Each row is broken down into sections of different vegetables and we will integrate herbs and flowers throughout each row based on companion relationships and aesthetic delights! The rows are intended to cut down on soil compaction because we will be able to reach across each 4' row to tend and harvest the vegetables without ever having to step in them. Last year our experimentation with black plastic row covers (to heat up the soil and keep weeds down) worked fantastically! So, we are utilizing the black plastic even more this summer in addition to some mini hoop houses to add a little extra heat to those veggies that like it hot.

This season, we are spending a lot of time at the start focusing on preventative maintenance: weeds and pests.  We are continuing our method of companion planting to help deter certain pests but also utilizing row covers and insect netting to keep the pests off our veggies.  We've also put black plastic around the perimeter of our garden to keep the weeds/habitat of pests down as well as a solar powered electric fence to keep certain pests out. Also, we've left our winter cover crop of winter rye in the walking pathways of the garden to see if it keeps the weeds down in addition to adding nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil.

Campus Farm Stands & Intervale Foodhub CSA shares for students, staff and faculty!

We have weekly farm stands on campus to share our veggies, flowers and herbs with the rest of the community.  Money from the Farm Stands goes directly to fund next summer's Organic Garden Intern.  Be on the look out for e-mails announcing the farm stands (estimated to start mid-end July through to the fall (usually mid-October).  Make sure you have subscribed to the Sustainability List-serv in order to get these farm stand notices

Going in to its fifth year is our partnership with the Intervale Foodhub. Faculty, staff and students can buy a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share and it gets delivered right to campus each week! (summer and winter shares). To learn more, check out the Intervale Foodhub.

The Amazing Gardeners for 2013

2013 organic garden crew

The garden is lucky to have three outstanding gardeners for this summer: OG Intern Michael Carlin '13 and OG Crew Members Piper Krabenhoft '14 and Morgan Jenkins '15.

THANK YOU

The garden would not have happened if it had not been for the tremendous support from our amazing community members:

  • President John Neuhauser
  • Vice President of Academic Affairs Karen Talentino
  • Father Mike Cronogue and the Edmundites
  • MOVE's Outdoor Volunteer Efforts
  • Alan Dickinson
  • Alan Sutton
  • the Environmental Studies and Biology Departments
  • Peter Hope
  • all of our amazing volunteers and donors
  • the Gardeners Mike, Piper and Morgan

If you have any questions about the garden (or want a tour and don't know how to find it), please feel free to contact me, Heather (Ellis) Lynch, Sustainability Coordinator and Organic Garden Program Manager at hellis@smcvt.edu or 802.654.2733.

Hope to see you down at the Garden soon!

Local Garden/Agriculture Links of Interest:
Friends of Burlington Gardens - Vermont Community Garden Network
Intervale Center
Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont
Vermont Master Gardener Program
The Center for an Agricultural Economy

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