Something from Nothing: General Maintenance and Kipos to turn unused plot into food forest

by Elizabeth Jacobs

General Maintenance and Kipos, Whitworth’s gardening club, are partnering to further sustainability efforts and environmental awareness on campus. They have plans to create a food forest, donate fresh produce to the community, continue gardening on campus, and build an all-year hydroponics garden.

General Maintenance approached Kipos earlier this year, and proposed a partnership in the creation of a food forest, a plan to turn an unused plot of land into a garden where any student can pick and use the food grown in it.

Aaron Sommerville, who works in general trades, maintenance and repair, said that Kipos became involved with the food forest project so that the students could make the food forest into something that they desired and could use. The goal is to have a student-based initiative, he said.

“We don’t have this huge agenda as to what goes there, we just want to make something of nothing,” Sommerville said.

The food forest will be located on a plot of land between the Fieldhouse and Merkel Field. Sommerville said that the plot is essentially just a big hill right now. It is not pretty, but it has the potential to be a beautiful place on campus, he said.

“This is great for what we’re doing and horrible for anything else,” Sommerville said.

The goal of the food forest is for it to be sustainable on its own. Sommerville said that the plot is designed in a way that will collect and absorb rainwater. It will not have any irrigation other than seasonal rainwater.

This will be accomplished by spreading logs, leaves, grass and other natural compost across layered terraces down the hill, Sommerville said. Logs will be dug into the terraces, which will act as  sponges for rainwater, and the terraces catch the water so it doesn’t run off the hill.

“Nature takes care of itself, it just needs a little directing,” Sommerville said.

The compost and natural resources spread on the plot, which Whitworth usually pays to have hauled away, would create new soil, Somerville said.

In addition, all the trees and plants will be donated, Sommerville said. General Maintenance already has cherry and plum trees that are ready to be planted. Whatever else students want to see in the food forest can be easily added, said Kipos Vice President Michelle Youngblom.

“Students will be able to help plant trees in the spring, take care of them, and harvest the produce once the trees are mature enough to produce fruit, which will be three or four years,” Youngblom said.

Food will go directly to students at Whitworth, Youngblom said. Students can visit the forest and take food when it is ripe.

The remainder of the food may go to charities such as Second Harvest Food Bank, Kipos President Christopher Grochowski said.

This will be a great place for students to get involved with sustainability, Grochowski said.

“These are places where students can engage in their food,” Grochowski said.

Kipos has already donated a substantial quantity of food through a Second Harvest program called, “Plant-a-Row for the Hungry,” Grochowski said. The program donates non-GMO, organic seeds to local gardeners, and the gardeners can give back some of their produce to Second Harvest.

“I would say, we have donated at least 120 pounds of produce,” Grochowski said.

This produce came from Kipos’ other two gardens on campus, Grochowski said. Those two gardens are large, and have been prosperous in the past two years, he said.

Grochowski said the goal of Kipos is to help students to engage with their food. He said he wants students to see that they can sustain their own food, which is a trend he said he believes America is missing.

“The culture in America has drifted so far from home gardening. There are places in the U.S. that are total food deserts, where no one has access to anything but corner stores for their food,” Grochowski said.

Another area where Kipos focuses on sustainability is in its hydroponics initiative, a greenhouse enclosure for growing produce year-round, which was constructed late last year with help from Sodexo and ASWU.

“I’m excited to have the produce being grown during the winter, I think that’s really cool,” Youngblom said.

The produce would be used by Sodexo, Youngblom said. The enclosure will be located in the new HUB expansion.

“My main goal for the club, is for it to continue to be sustained and really active in the community because I think that’s something that is lacking at Whitworth,” Youngblom said. “Other than our club, there isn’t really a push for environmentalism. So, I’d like to see students keep up with this even after the leadership of Kipos now, is gone.”

The workers in General Trades, Maintenance & Repair at Whitworth want the food forest to be whatever the students want it to be, but Sommerville sees it as his job to maintain vision and provide assistance in upkeep, he said.

“Our goal is to take an idea, and make into something usable,” Sommerville said. “We want to take something neglected and turn it into something that is totally usable, and that the students and Whitworth benefit from.”

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