Yale Students Cultivate Their Own Organic Garden

A student-run organic garden is the most recent undertaking in Yale’s Sustainable Food Initiative, an ambitious plan to change the ethos of eating on the Yale campus.

The Yale initiative, which promotes direct contact between consumers and local growers, organic cultivation, composting and an increased awareness of food, has been gaining momentum since a student environmental group, with guidance from famed restaurateur Alice Waters, held a week-long festival of farming operations on the campus two years ago.

Since then, Berkeley, one of Yale’s 12 residential colleges, has hosted several organic banquets prepared under the auspices of Waters, and last spring the Master John Rogers pledged that Berkeley’s dining hall would offer one wholly organic menu at every meal starting this fall. Yale’s Berkeley, incidentally, which has been spearheading the Sustainable Food Initiative, received the highest rating in a nationwide survey of campus cuisine reported in the Wall Street Journal last November.

With the support of the Yale administration, dining service managers hired organic farmer Josh Viertel to explore setting up a campus-wide composting system, and an overgrown field in a New Haven park within walking distance of central campus was cleared to make way for Yale’s first organic garden. Nine Yale undergraduates tend the three-quarter-acre garden as summer interns.

Viertel already has set up a pilot composting program serving three of Yale’s dining halls. A seasoned professional whose experience includes working on an organic farm in Sicily and teaching organic agricultural methods at a boarding school in Vermont, he is the prime mover and motive force of Yale’s new garden.

He offers guidance to the Yale interns and demonstrates many of the basic principles of organic farming, such as the strategic positioning of crops and cultivation of several different varieties of a single plant. Thus, he explains, garlic is planted next to strawberries to deter pests and to improve the flavor of the fruit, and green turf lines the aisles between rows to boost the nitrogen supply in the soil.

Yale organic gardeners see their mission as educational and will use their experience to teach others. They plan on selling their wares - which include four varieties of amaranth, three of arugula and five of squash among other vegetables-at a local farmers’ market, and they will share their bounty with Berkeley’s dining hall.

When they hang up their hoes at the end of their first season, the Yale organic gardening team will celebrate their harvest with a grand banquet of the food they spent their summer growing.

Meanwhile, dining service managers, administrators and representatives of student groups from more than 60 northeastern colleges and universities have been invited to attend a conference on sustainable food at Yale in November. Participants will have an opportunity to meet farmers from the region and to discuss ways that educational institutions might network together and in cooperation with local growers to implement sustainable food practices on their own campuses. An organic banquet is on the agenda for the event.

A more comprehensive description of the forthcoming conference will be sent out in a separate release.

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Media Contact

Dorie Baker: dorie.baker@yale.edu, 203-432-1345