Campus Garden produces more than produce

Student worker Savannah Everett waters a garden bed of leafy salad greens at the GCU Outdoor Recreation Campus Garden.

Photos by Ralph Freso / Slideshow

Sunshine angled across the field in late afternoon at Grand Canyon University’s campus. Student Savannah Everett had no phone or laptop but instead carried a hoe. Wearing leather work boots and jeans, she was positively tranquil, even as final exams approach.

“For me, it’s an escape. I get to be outside,” she said of the quarter-acre GCU Outdoor Recreation Campus Garden north of Agave. “There are not many places on campus this quiet. It’s really peaceful.”

In its first semester, the community garden is filled with 78 raised-bed garden plots that students can rent for $20 a semester. Tucked amid the six-story campus buildings is a gentle oasis that brings life to broccoli, lettuce, carrots and kale and much more.

Everett is a student worker for the garden, operated by the Outdoor Recreation Program, but would be out here for free. The junior was raised on church community gardens in her hometown of Beaverton, Oregon, before coming to GCU to pursue an elementary education degree.

In her own garden bed, green onions, radishes and other vegetables are going strong, growing from soil where she planted seeds just weeks before.

“You get to see the fruits of your labor,” she said.

Everett examines the growth and condition of a garden bed of leafy salad greens.

The beds, tended by 44 students this fall, are made of recycled lumber and painted by its occupants in their style. Everett painted big fluffy clouds.

The project has been a learning experience for both staff and students.

“I knew nothing about gardening, but I learned,” Outdoor Recreation Manager Chad Schlundt said. “If you saw what it looked like, the gardeners really bought in.”

The land was once a pilot project called Canyon Urban Farms, but priorities shifted and the quarter-acre was overgrown. That’s when Outdoor Recreation, which helped with the farm during the pandemic when its off-campus adventure trips were canceled, decided to take it on.

“Let’s give this opportunity to students,” Schlundt said.

A large red radish growing in the GCU Outdoor Recreation Campus Garden.

He brought in nonprofit partner Urban Farming Education for consultation on how to grow – many students come from other U.S. growing zones.

“Arizona is one of the few places with two growing seasons, fall and winter,” he said.

Students are supplied a how-to seminar and free starter seeds to plant in the 4-foot-by-5-foot bed, but it's up to their whims. One student has a wild-looking plot of corn and sunflowers.

The first attempts were not without challenges. Pest pressure killed a lot of plants. Organizers secured an organic pesticide donation, and the plots are really coming along.

Many wanted to plant flowering plants such as tomatoes but quickly realized those can be a challenge. The roots-and-leaves plants such as carrots and lettuces are growing the best.

A head of broccoli begins to take shape.

Sophomore Haley Huntting has a nice-looking bed of vegetables, because she grew up with gardening in Mexico and with her mom in Tucson.

"It was a way to relax as much as a hobby. So when GCU offered it, it became a way to de-stress from school," she said of growing the peppers, broccoli and cauliflower from retail starter plants and radishes and snap peas from supplied seeds. "It's a relaxing place to come and see the plants grow."

Sixteen fruit trees, predominantly Arizona-friendly citrus such as orange, lime, lemon and grapefruit, were planted on the north edge. Pomegranate and peach trees join them, though the latter nearly died before they were tended back to life. They all take extra pruning and care.

“It’s a very careful business,” said Everett, one of eight student workers.

A welcome sign at the entrance of the garden.

Outdoor Recreation also has plots and offered departments in Student Affairs a chance to join the fun. Local Outreach in Spiritual Life dug into the project quickly. Its large plot centering the quarter-acre is filled with healthy plants, even those tricky tomatoes.

“They come out and tend it every day,” Schlundt said.

But after the initial planting and watchful tending of early sprouting to make sure it’s free of insects, Everett says, a gardener may only need to come to the garden once or twice a week. An irrigation system provides a steady water supply.

They may want to visit more.

Many students have found the garden a quiet spot to study or just relax in a little cabana area with sofas and shade. It’s as much a place to create community as it is to learn about growing and enjoying the healthy and organic produce.

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.

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GCU OUTDOOR RECREATION CAMPUS GARDEN

Plots are available for $20 for a 4-by-5-foot bed until they fill. Instruction and starter seeds included. Garden is staffed from sunrise to 9 p.m. and 3 p.m. to sunset. Visit GCU’s Outdoor Recreation Program's BaseCamp in Agave Apartments, 10 a.m.-6:30 p.m. weekdays.

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Related content:

GCU News: GCU's farm fills neighbors' plates, students' souls

GCU News: GCU's urban farms plant seeds to feed neighbors

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