October is a month mainly associated with witches, candy corn and the ascendance of the “holiday season.”
For members of the F.H. King Students for Sustainable Agriculture Club, October also marks the end of the growing season for the community garden they tend to almost year round. To celebrate the fruits of their labor, the club throws a Harvest Fest in which members and non-members alike are invited to come to the garden, according to co-garden director Erin Brenner.
“It’s really fun seeing people discover the space, seeing them enjoy it, and to watch them start to come here more,” Brenner said.
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Harvest Fest itself looked like something you would see in a classic coming of age movie — stacks of hay set up as chairs, wooden crates filled with apples and fairy lights glowing above a makeshift stage setup where Wimbledon, a local band assembled of students, crooned upbeat indie rock.
Brenner said that for most, it’s their first time seeing the garden. Understandably so, it’s a little difficult because of the off-campus location.
“If there’s a big, fun party with good food and music it’s a nice way to get people out here. We definitely view it as a launchpad to get people involved in other ways,” Brenner said.
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Using the celebration as a launchpad to gain new members is a necessary tradition. The F.H. King club, the party and the entirety of the massive garden are completely student-run.
Those students aren’t the only ones who get to enjoy its scenery and spoils, Rena Yehuda Newman, director of intern programs, said.
“Our role on campus is to connect people, land and food,” Newman said.
Brenner refers to student volunteers as the “lifeblood” of the whole organization. Unfortunately, the growing schedule of the plants in the garden doesn’t always mesh with the academic schedule of students.
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She acknowledged the obvious — it’s a college campus. Plenty of people leave in the summer, making for a big project to get all the help Brenner can get.
“Spring and fall are really difficult as well because the growing season and the school season do not live super well together. The garden needs a lot of time and care — when it’s finals,” Brenner laughed.
The actual “growing season” lasts from April to November. The items planted are inspired directly by student opinion and needs.
Aside from trying to have fun and doing “exotic, weird things” people have never tried before, Brenner said she values newcomers’ input.
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“We try to use student opinions to direct what we grow. We try to keep in mind what vegetables are kind of user-friendly and friendly to someone who might not always half kitchen access, which is true for someone living in the dorms,” Brenner said. “A really fun thing people tried this year was a really tiny cucumber variety called Mexican sour gherkins. They’re smaller than kumquats and you put them in your mouth all at once.”
The F.H. King board encourages students who leave for the summer to apply for the club’s summer internships. The internships offer the opportunity to learn about sustainability and have hands-on experience in the garden. These internships are viewed as the best way to get a foot in the door when it comes to joining the club.
In the winter — after the growing season has ended — the club holds educational horticultural workshops across campus. The club and the garden are involved with the culture of both campus and the city of Madison.
During the growing season the club gives out food every Friday. They have a compost pile from the garden that gets filled up by community food waste, like restaurants.
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“Bicycle volunteers ride around the city, get food waste in the back of a trailer and bring it out here,” Brenner said. “We’re also right across from the university research plots, where they’re doing some breeding testing — so we definitely have a great resource of experts right across the way, which I don’t think is the case for any other student garden I can think of.”
F.H. King’s contributions to the school make it one of the most unique, dedicated and involved on campus. If you didn’t get the chance to make it to Harvest Fest, make sure you come to Spring Kickoff, the celebration of the beginning of the growing season.