UCF Arboretum

UCF Arboretum

Apr 15

I spent my morning at the organic community garden at the UCF Arboretum. The Arboretum sits on the UCF campus and is part of conservation land. The Arboretum was started years ago with the mission of giving “students, faculty, staff, and the greater community of Central Florida a comprehensive environmental and outdoor living laboratory for education, research, recreation, and human interaction with ecosystem functions.”

The Arboretum started the organic community garden two years ago, it is about a half acre big, and is maintained by a few school staff with help from many volunteers . Every Thursday and Friday during the school year at 8am, 10am, and 1pm, they offer volunteer sessions that allow both students and non-students to learn about the garden and their techniques. This morning while volunteering, I got to transplant cucumbers, mulch some garden beds, and weed what felt like the whole half acre! There was only four volunteers this morning at 8am, but since most of the volunteers tend to be students, I wasn’t surprised since it was early for a college aged person.

This scarecrow has been slacking on the job! Despite his presence, the garden has some big deer issues since it sits on the conservation land.

Volunteering wasn’t quite as informative as I had hoped. Jean was a staff member in the garden with the volunteers and she was kind and very informative when you asked, but they really didn’t volunteer much information about organic gardening practices. I suppose it is a learn as you do type thing, like the transplanting of veggies and using mulch and mushroom compost that I did today. But for a beginning gardener, if you go volunteer be prepared to ask what things are and why you’re doing certain things. An interesting thing Jean talked about was the idea of the community garden having plot that people could plant in like a traditional community garden model. This way volunteers can maintain there own plot and the Arboretum staff doesn’t have to choose all the veggies and herbs to be planted in the garden.

The Arboretum has this huge stack of pots that looks like garden art to me! They sells some of thier plants at plants sales as well as they use the pots for seedlings.

I will definitely volunteer again, and definitely at the 8am shift, it got hot as the morning went on. Also, I wore a big sun hat and sunscreen which turned out to be necessary. Next time I am bringing my own gardening gloves (they offered some but they were large on my hands and had been used for quite awhile), and some bug spray (again, they offered some but it didn’t seem to work very well, I am covered in No-see-um bites!) Also, for new volunteers there is free on campus parking at the Arboretum, it doesn’t say where to park on the website, I had to call to find out.

Southwest vieew from the garden center, thats the other volunteers mulching around the beds to keep the weeds down.

I also got a chance to talk to Tina, an employee at the Arboretum. She was kind enough to cut and pick some fresh veggies for me to take home, a common practice for volunteers. As she picked my onions, kale, and sorrel, she was telling me about the future of the Arboretum. Turns out, since 1968 this plot of land on the UCF campus has been used and saved for environmental teaching and an outdoor classroom. In 2002 the St. Johns River Water Management with UCF made the 12 acre piece of land a conservation easement. However, UCF has not kept up the standard of the conservation easement, using bulldozers and mulching part of the land, and now the university is asking for the Easement to be lifted so it can develop the land for future school growth. Tina, as a UCF employee couldn’t speak out against the schools decision, however she told me that in a recent ballot vote by the student body, 87% of the students opposed the lift of the conservation easement that the university has asked for. It seems that the students see the importance of maintaining this space for environmental and moral issues. The main part of this that struck me was that the community garden sits on this land and if the University gets it’s way, the garden could be gone for good so they can build more parking garages or classroom buildings. Tina said that the garden was the most successful of it’s type in the state, and I know that with the way our food industry is, it’s so important for people, especially college aged young people, to know about food and where it’s coming from. As a central Florida resident I am definitely against the university’s request for the easement lift. It’s far to important to the community and the students to lose it.

The garden uses bamboo in great ways. Here as a trellis, but also as a fence and on the ground along the paths to keep the deer out

For ways you can help this issue and more information, please check out this post on Knightly News and the Florida School of Holistic Living website (Florida School is a local organization partnering with student organization to publicly oppose the university in this issue). Also go volunteer, and take your friends. The more people who know about the garden and the land the more people who can protest the loss of it.

Kale, onions, and red vined Sorrel, the bounty I got to take home from my volunteer shift


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