Monday, November 7, 2011

Our SustainAPPLE Campus Community

Like the glorious moment of crawling into bed after a mid-summer, 14-hour day outside in the heat, this time of year is a welcome break for those of us in the business of growing (in this region, that is). With the peace of mind that garlic and cover crops will take over for the winter, our volunteers will help us with our last harvests in the coming weeks, and that our next grant proposal has been submitted, we are able to kick back and reflect on the wonder of our first growing season.

Sure, project progress is visible to passersby in the clean lines of the patio and carefully built cedar beds, but for those of us deeply invested in the mission of the garden, the real measure of progress takes a different form. That form recently came to our attention in the shape of an apple.

Symbolically, apples carry a long line of lure about health, knowledge, tradition and cultivation. Certain things are deemed "as American as apple pie." Some believe that "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" while others associate the fruit with temptation, places in space and time, and a simple, healthy addition to school lunch.

For us, apples seemed like the perfect seasonal offering for our First Annual Harvest Festival. The day before the event, the whole garden gang was invited along on my family's annual October trip to Larriland Farms - which in and of itself was a magical realization that my family life and career path had officially merged to become a lifestyle rich in relationships, rooted in the same soil. Despite the pressure of midterms, deadlines and milestones still looming, project president Allison Lily (pictured) picked enough apples to fill baskets for the raffle and fill the bellies of festival attendees while I watched my little niece enjoy her first handfuls of apple fritters.

On the day of the festival, students and staff hung around eating apples. Delicious, raw, whole, freshly-picked apples. Sure, they weren't from our young apple trees on site - but someday they will be. And someday - perhaps even next year - the land in front of Eppley Recreation Center will transition from turf to the orchard of our dreams/blueprints. Our hillside apple trees will be the first of dozens in this particular corner of an edible campus and our garden gang will hand the land over to the next group of pioneering of Public Health Gardeners and sleep easy knowing we left this land far more productive than we found it.

What I'm trying to say is that the true fruits of are labor are only just beginning to reveal themselves. As proud as we are of the construction progress and yields of this first year, we are far more proud of the future and potential that this little patch of land will go on to provide. We truly believe that every student who participates in this living classroom will garner an appreciation for that which this university was originally founded: agriculture and the exchange of knowledge about it.

And who knows, maybe future University of Maryland students will even be able to bring home enough campus-fresh apples for Thanksgiving pies.

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