Arboretum, Knights Pantry Partnerhip Grows
The produce students receive at Knights Pantry might be fresher and more healthful than anything they could buy at local supermarkets. That’s because of efforts led by the Arboretum and members of the UCF chapter of Engineers Without Borders to establish organic gardens in the local community.
Knights Pantry provides up to five items of food each day to any student with a valid UCF ID; however, because its space in Ferrell Commons possessed no refrigeration units, its food stocks were limited to non-perishable and canned goods. Beginning in 2009, as part of a collaborative effort with Wellness & Health Promotion Services, the pantry established a partnership with the Arboretum to provide produce from its gardens two to three times each week.
“It’s really great that we can offer fresh produce to our clients,” said Sasha Ruiz, the volunteer coordinator for Knights Pantry and a graduate student in communication sciences and disorders. “[The Arboretum] brings us carrots, greens, lettuce, mint — all sorts of things.”
According to her files, the Arboretum donated up to 22 pounds of fresh greens per week. It’s a bounty that’s delivered personally by Jacques Werleigh, the garden manager and leadership liaison for the Arboretum.
Werleigh supervised the planting in the garden and stops in at the pantry at least four times each week to monitor produce for freshness. He espoused a method of fertilizer-and-pesticide-free cultivation known as “permaculture,” which takes advantage of the symbiotic relationship between different species of plants to ward off insects and draw nutrients from the soil.
“Plants in nature, they don’t grow in straight rows, yet they thrive,” Werleigh said. “There’s a lot that goes into a natural ecosystem. For me, permaculture means going back to the basics.”
The garden, located on the wide expanse of green just beyond the Harris Corporation Engineering Center, is bordered by an 8-foot-tall wire fence meant to discourage grazing deer. Inside, between the winding footpaths of wood chips and sod, plants both large and small erupted in a medley of colors from the dark black soil. A peach tree, blossoming with constellations of ripening fruit, provided some shade from the relentless Florida sun.
Werleigh said that the most difficult part in maintaining the garden, aside from the amount of time required by the initial plantings, was finding volunteers with enough time to dedicate to planting and harvesting their crops.
“When the rains come, everything is growing, but we don’t have any students,” he said. “Things get hectic, at times — it’s so prolific. I’ll come in and harvest a ton of stuff.”
Article written by Brian Wilchusky
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