Soft rolling fields.
Blooming yellow sunflowers.
Clean, fresh air.
None of these images describe the city of Madison, where concrete sidewalks, thousands of pedestrians and bus exhaust are the norm. But if you look hard enough, you can find a small bit of calm countryside inside a bustling city.
The Eagle Heights Community Gardens is the perfect escape for all those who still have a hint of country left in their blood. Located near the Eagle Heights Apartments, it is a short bike ride for any UW student.
The gardens have a long tradition of serving the university community. In fact, students, faculty, staff, alumni and area residents have enjoyed the gardens since 1962 – making it the oldest continuously running community gardens in the nation.
Over the summer I joined in the gardening tradition and rented one of the 458 plots. The experience is one that my roommates and I will not forget.
When my roommate and I purchased the plot, I was so excited. I even brought my parents out to see our plot in the beginning of May.
To say they laughed at us is an understatement. But I understood, since only one look at our 20′ by 20′ plot of prairie weeds and purple thistle would cause most to be skeptical. Nevertheless, we had a vision – one of ripe red tomatoes, crisp leaf lettuce and an endless patch of cucumbers.
But we had our work cut out for us. We recruited several understanding (and strong) friends, filled up a cooler with ice and beverages and threw our pitchforks over our shoulders. We were going to “till the land,” an act which we soon found to be grossly overrated.
Nevertheless, we stuck to the Garden rules – no herbicides, pesticides or gas-powered tools (meaning my dad’s rototiller was out of the question).
After many, many hours of hard manual labor, and the help of our kind garden neighbors who had proper tilling tools, we had cleared a large portion of the garden.
Immediately we planted green beans, yellow squash, zucchini, leaf lettuce, spinach, carrots, radishes, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.
Unfortunately, as any gardener knows, sometimes it is impossible to enjoy all the fruits of your labor. The carrots and beans weren’t a huge success, but we certainly have enjoyed almost every entrée containing zucchini or squash, including yellow squash casserole, chocolate zucchini cake and countless zucchini breads. And right now we have enough tomatoes to feed a small nation, and as with the squash and zucchini, we are finding creative recipes to use them up.
When I look back on all of our work, I (along with anyone else who has eaten dinner at our house over the summer) can honestly say the end product was worth all of the effort. From learning how to grow (or how not to grow) vegetables to how other cultures and families work on their plots, it was an amazing experience.
However, in the very near future, not as many gardeners may be able to have similar experiences. The university is proposing a plan to eliminate 16 percent of the garden plots. Recently, UW took land from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to build a new heating and cooling facility, causing CALS to look for space for their research fields elsewhere. So now CALS is proposing using about 75 garden plots to help compensate for the loss.
Although the gardening community is fighting to keep all its land, one road block it is running into is the university claim that the Eagle Heights Community Gardens has less of a stronghold on the land because it is not solely a student organization. However, over half of the plots go to students and students have first priority in receiving a plot.
Furthermore, such a wide array of generations and cultures provides a unique learning experience that can’t be replicated. I know I would have had a lot of problems getting our garden started if it weren’t for our veteran neighbor gardener.
I understand that each university department has its own needs and reason for wanting the land. But I feel that other options should be looked at before taking away from such a scarce resource on campus.
It would be a shame if someone would not be able to have a similar experience to mine this summer at the Eagle Heights Community Gardens. Plus, without a plot next summer, I just may go through zucchini and yellow squash withdrawal.