At the College of Charleston, it’s all about growth. And, if you want to see that growth in action, look no farther than the College’s Dixie Plantation Student Garden.
Established through a Golden Pearl Foundation grant in 2010, the Student Garden at Dixie Plantation aims to educate, inspire and nourish the CofC community through workshops and hands-on experiences throughout the two–acre site.
“Students are encouraged to learn about sustainable agriculture and local food sources through volunteering or being part of the Student Farm and Garden Club,” says Abbie Cain, coordinator of the graduate program in environmental studies and director of the Student Garden.
In addition to being a functioning market garden that teaches students about agriculture, gardening, food systems and land management, the Student Garden is a dedicated research laboratory for project management and field research in biology, geology, environmental studies, education, communication, history, business and more. With a stake in the life and health of the farm, students are growing both mentally and physically – and so is the produce.
This fall, the Student Garden harvested a bounty of kale, turnip greens, radishes and garlic. And the students in Idee Winfield’s First-Year Experience Sociology of Food course used that yield to feed their own sense of altruism: They cleaned and bagged approximately 30 bags of turnip greens and kale and 10 bags of radishes, which they then distributed to 91 people at the Neighborhood House‘s lunch soup kitchen.
Cain is looking forward to more opportunities that reach beyond the garden’s plot at Dixie Plantation, as well.
“Outside of the habitat, we’ve joined forces with Lexa Keane, who runs the restorative agriculture programs on campus, to collaborate and educate our community on restorative agricultural practices in an urban setting,” says Cain, who grew up raising livestock, tobacco, corn and soybeans on a 450–acre farm in Ohio. “Our collaboration aims to promote and co-sponsor events that highlight local campus grown food, as well as sustainable and efficient practices. We’re really looking forward to events focused on uses for herbs, making kimchi and a harvest dinner!”
Because it’s never too early to begin cultivating an appreciation for agriculture, the Teaching Garden is open to K-12 field trips, as well.
“Our space is adaptable to the changing culture and needs of our community, so we’re open to exploring avenues that our stakeholders deem important and relevant,” says Cain. “Our next project is the installation of a pollinator habitat that will cover almost three-quarters of an acre. Last year, the Student Garden received a grant from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to get this project off the ground. We’re working with local partners to design the space and to secure native plant species. There will be ample opportunities to visit Dixie Plantation or to become involved on-campus as we host workshops to build nest boxes, plant our habitat, and create compost.”
Cain stresses that, despite its name, the Student Garden also welcomes faculty and staff.
“We hope for the Student Garden to become a valuable resource to the College community,” says Cain. “Ideally, we would have a steady stream of volunteers who not only put effort into the garden, but also benefit from it – whether that benefit is through fresh produce on their tables, newfound knowledge of farming or a day spent with friends while the sun shines on their faces as they toil in the dirt. It’s all worthwhile!”
In other words, the Student Garden is a real opportunity for growth.