From campus to table: students create garden bounty for diners, community

August 1, 2013 •

Diners at the Center for Community with an interest in fresh food and sustainability might swallow easier knowing that some of the ingredients they’re savoring were grown by CU-Boulder students just yards away.

As a new project this summer, a group of about 12 CU-Boulder student volunteers studying environmental design and environmental studies is cultivating herbs and vegetables in the courtyard garden just outside of the west doors of the C4C dining center. They’re working in partnership with Housing & Dining Services.

The produce that the students researched, selected, planted and now maintain ranges from basil, mint and nasturtiums to tomatoes, Thai peppers and pumpkins.

Once the produce is harvested, it’s delivered in seconds to C4C chefs for use in the day’s fare, adding a flare of flavor to sauces, stir-fries, salads and more.

“This project is a great example of a successful collaboration between students, faculty and their campus environment,” said Lauren Heising, CU-Boulder coordinator for sustainable dining. “We are so excited about the student support that has allowed this garden to grow. ”

But there’s more to the project than weeding, watering and picking. The student volunteers are gaining practical experience, not only in agriculture, but also in understanding food safety, blending their garden design with the campus’s Tuscan vernacular architectural theme, and learning to troubleshoot landscape issues like soil heath and irrigation systems.

The students also see the project as an opportunity to draw the campus community into the idea of permaculture -- the development of sustainable gardening systems.

“I think the subtlety of the garden is what’s great,” said Mariah Hermsmeyer, one of the student volunteers and a sophomore studying architecture and fine arts. “It’s just here for people if they want to come and learn about it. Maybe it’ll start something -- it won’t seem as strange to have vegetables growing on your campus that you’re going to eat. It just becomes normal.”

The students became involved when they were taking a variety of environmental design courses in the spring and earlier this summer on landscape design, urban agriculture and permaculture, as the garden idea was spurred and word spread about the opportunity to volunteer.

“In class, we were looking at so many examples of food movements across the country and the students really wanted to do something too,” said Tori Derr, a senior instructor in environmental design who is leading the project. “I hope this project has empowered them to know their collective efforts make a difference and that they carry this forward into their future work.”

Derr and the student volunteers including Tory Moore, a senior in environmental design, would like to see the garden become part of an official course and their efforts carried on.

“My hope is that they take from what we’ve done this year and learn from it and build on it,” said Moore. “That could mean expanding the variety of plants, or expanding the amount of space dedicated to edible plants versus just aesthetically pleasing plants. I think both would be awesome goals.”

For more information about CU-Boulder’s program in environmental design visit For more information about sustainable dining through Housing & Dining Services visit