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A Place For Everyone: The Sustainability Club Community Garden

Phinn Long and Kalli Proffitt in the Boise State Community Garden

It’s a crisp, late-summer morning—the light warm and glowy—and I’m standing among towering sunflowers. Two blocks away, campus is buzzing with move-in and the excitement of new semester prep, but here it’s all serenity, sunflowers, and that indescribable feeling of harmony I get when I’m surrounded by nature.

I’m talking with Kalli Proffitt (KP) and Phinn Long, who spent the summer rehabilitating Boise State’s community garden. That’s right. Boise State has a community garden. It’s the main focus of the Sustainability Club, a student organization dedicated to promoting sustainable living.

Built on an unassuming lot on the outskirts of campus, the garden is lush and lively. While we chatted, no fewer than 6 species of birds (and at least one squirrel) chattered around us. Bees and wasps buzzed among the flowers. Spiders, grasshoppers and worms call the garden home, and a mama praying mantis has made herself at home behind the garage. Garden boxes overflow with towering sunflowers, tomatoes, peppers and squash.

But to be honest, the garden is a work in progress. After being built and cared for around 2011, it fell into neglect when the original gardeners graduated or moved on. So KP and Phinn took on the Hometown Challenge this summer and started bringing the garden back to life, literally.

Right now they’re focusing on water conservation and making the garden a low maintenance, sustainable space for everyone to enjoy. They’re converting a grassy area into xeriscape, planting red and white clover for ground cover (and pollinators’ health and enjoyment) and shifting to strategic crop pairing so the plants can help each other flourish.

The potential of this small plot of land is astonishing. They’re growing tomatoes, squash, peas, strawberries, and a handful of other fruits and vegetables. Their hope is to grow enough to donate the produce to the campus food pantry so students can get it there. The flowers provide for pollinators, and four buckets buried in a raised bed are home to worms creating worm castings, or “black gold,” a natural fertilizer that enhances soil quality and provides valuable nutrients for the plants.

But it’s not just about production. It’s about having a space in the middle of an urban area to step away from the grind, spend time with nature, and learn a little bit about biodiversity.

“For Sustainability Club, our biggest objective is to have this space for people and wildlife to use,” says KP. “An art professor wants to come and have an outside class here this fall and just paint whatever they see.”

The garden has been a safe place to spend time during the pandemic. Four or five people could spend time working in the garden together with plenty of space between them. “We want to create that space for wildlife, students, community members and staff. After laying this foundation, we can create this space like the Boise Urban Garden School,” says KP.

“Our goal is to turn the garage into a physically safe space, an accessible space, and really educational and creative. We want to collect educational materials about how to identify things in the garden, planting seasons, history about corn, squash and beans” says Phinn. “People can come here, know how they can get involved, and then make it so low stress that they enjoy being here and want to come back.”

That enjoyable, low-stress feeling is exactly what drew Cody, a volunteer who’s been helping in the garden for the past year. He got involved because of his interest in helping the environment and he’s continued because of his love of spending time in nature while he’s working in the garden.

It’s hard to spend time in the garden and not leave with the warm, refreshing feeling that can only come from connecting with the natural world. “If you’re here for even 20 minutes, you’re going to see stuff. There’s so much life everywhere here, and that’s a big part of it too, appreciating that,” says KP.

“I hope when you’re in this space you see beauty and respect for nature and, in turn, see beauty and respect for yourself.”

If you want to know more about the work the Sustainability Club is doing, the plans they have for the future of the garden, and just how wonderful of a natural space the Juanita Street lot really is, mark your calendar because they’re hosting an open house in the garden on August 27, 9 a.m.—3 p.m.

And if you’re interested in getting involved with the club you can join them on Slack to meet them and learn more about their work.

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