Behind the Greens: Teaming Up Gardens and Kitchens

On any given weekday, you can find JoHannah Biang’s red pickup truck parked outside of the office at UGArden, the student-run organic farm at the University of Georgia. As the farm manager, Biang oversees the daily operation of the farm from the second she kills the engine in her truck to the moment she hops back in it to go home. 

Located near the Athens Botanical Gardens on South Milledge, UGArden has grown into what looks more like a farm than a traditional garden since they planted their first plot in 2010. Their rapid growth, however, hasn’t changed the vision the founding members created for the space— teach and outreach.

UGArden offers UGA students several education opportunities. Some are in the form of courses taught by Professor David Berle, UGArden Director, that range from horticulture science to sustainable food production. Others include volunteer shifts and internships managed by Biang. 

On top of their goal to educate as many students as possible about how to care for a space like this one, UGArden also partners with local area schools like Clarke Middle School and Hilsman Middle School, as well as with Campus Kitchen at UGA to provide students an opportunity to serve their community.

Biang said that this outreach wouldn’t be possible without the help of those student volunteers.

“If we didn’t pull the weeds and we didn’t plant the seeds,” said Biang, “then there would never be any crops to donate.”

While some of their harvest is for sale each week at local area produce markets, UGArden donates about half of the fresh produce they harvest to Campus Kitchen at UGA, a student organization whose goal is to aid food insecure seniors in the Athens community by cooking meals and providing groceries to people in need. 

With sustainability holding a high importance with both UGArden and Campus Kitchen, Biang said the partnership between them came naturally.

“They are a recovery and redistribution program, so it worked great for them to come out, help us harvest it, and then take it to the commercial kitchen [where they cook it].”

In the last year, Campus Kitchen has recorded 4,897 pieces of fresh produce that were grown and harvested at UGArden to be used or redistributed by Campus Kitchen for the programs they partner with– Meals on Wheels and Grandparents Raising Grandchildren. Each meal meets the MyPlate standard set the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is prepared by UGA student volunteers. 

Not only does the harvest end up on plates that give senior citizens a balanced meal, but it is also an educational opportunity for the Campus Kitchen clients.

Brad Turner, the program coordinator of Campus Kitchen at the University of Georgia, says that it’s as simple as putting a different food item in the donated grocery bag.

“Local produce is always a real favorite of our clients, because it’s things they grew up with and know how to cook,” said Turner. “There’s also a chance we’ll show them new things that UGArden might be growing that their students are learning about and our clients get to learn how to cook with it as well.”

In addition to including different produce, Biang pays special care to grow produce she knows the clients will like.

“A lot of their clients are older and Southern, so they usually eat a lot of greens– collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens– they love all of that,” said Biang.

As Turner and one of his student volunteers washed and prepared the collard greens harvested from UGArden Wednesday morning for the 85 meals Campus Kitchen would cook that night, one thing was clear– every hand helps.

“It’s pretty cool, because even for the students that just come out [to UGArden] and work, they’re still affecting the community and they’re still working just as much as the student who is preparing the meal,” said Biang. 

Whether they are in the field or in the kitchen, it’s the students with a passion for sustainability and service that makes this partnership a working one.

Gracie Thompson

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