Campus gardens: Food production or sense of place?
Campus gardens can provide opportunities for experiential learning and enhanced physical and mental health; however, they require substantial commitments of time, money, and effort. This formative evaluation explored the perspectives of a university population on the establishment of a campus garden prior to its implementation. Phase 1 involved an electronic survey of the entire population at a small university (N=1300). Phase 2 consisted of 11 in-depth interviews with survey respondents who were interested in furthering the dialogue. The majority (85%) of the 415 individuals who responded to the survey and all interviewees supported the idea of a campus garden. Compared to a shared/community garden or rental plot, participants preferred a low-maintenance forest garden. Food production was secondary to protection of the natural environment and providing a space for rest and reflection. Participants’ sense of community, combined with knowledge of the university’s history, mission, and values, reflected a strong sense of place, a key component of social sustainability. Perhaps it is time to consider alternate options to traditional community gardens on university campuses. This research suggests that forest gardens, with their low-maintenance approach to food production and their potential to promote social sustainability through an enhanced sense of place, may be a good place to start.