Tom Thumb’s Student Garden is a branch of Tufts Sustainability Collective.

Right off the path that leads to South Hall on the Tufts University campus is

Garden logo

a modest cluster of raised beds. When compared to the neighboring Community Garden, it seems small, but it’s the start of what we hope will become a popular campus feature. There’s something very exciting about the prospect of fresh produce on a college campus.

Many students come from a home with a small garden. They live at Tufts with that old ache in the bones and yearning in the soul to get out and play in the dirt, find a worm, harvest a ripe tomato. These are experiences that don’t seem to align with hours studying in the library to become doctors and scientists and lawyers. But they are experiences that are valuable and contribute to a healthy happy life.

With the vision of a garden for the students, several Tufts students, including Signe Porteshawver, the head of the garden this past semester, and Yosefa Ehrlich worked with Tufts Facilities to reserve a space for several raised beds. The space was then used in a an Ex-College class on new alternatives in agriculture during the 2010 fall semester. The class built three raised beds and planted cold-hardy plants to get the most out of the fall semester.

After the class ended, the space and raised beds were turned over to the general student population under the Tufts Sustainability Collective. A branch formed specifically for the garden and local food efforts: Tom Thumb’s Student Garden, named for the other elephant in the legend of our mascot, Jumbo. With over 60 subscribers to the e-list, it’s obvious that the idea of a student garden is a popular one.

Now, the mission is to build up enough infrastructure to ensure the garden’s longevity. During the spring of 2011, several students dedicated many valuable afternoons to building raised beds and beginning a shed and tool-box. With a wide range of skills in the garden group, we’ve had amateur carpenters teach potato-growing masters the ropes of building with wood and seasoned gardeners explain the purposes of compost to the garden greenhorns. With salvaged materials left over from a theater performance, the group strives to find low-impact approaches to expanding the garden. Gardeners and carpenters alike spent many hours spent ripping stubborn pieces of wood apart and staring at frames trying to imagine its use as-is. But as of the beginning of the summer of 2011, the garden has four new raised beds and two compost bins!  A shed and water barrel system is in the works and will hopefully be finished for the fall semester. But for now, a few dedicated student gardeners are helping the garden through the summer.

A variety of plants, some started inside during the frost months, are now thriving in their new homes. Everything from squash and melons to peppers and tomatoes are growing (even in the absence of caretakers during the first few weeks of summer). Now, with several garden group members on campus for the rest of the summer, the little plants will receive much love and possibly even some more neighbors as they keep their eyes out for more ways to expand the garden through more creatively recycled and constructed raised beds.

It will take dedication and many hours of hard work, but in the end, a garden for and by the students will be a great addition to the Tufts University campus as a place for growth for both plants and students.