Luther Gardens increase production

Dec. 20, 2011                       

Luther Gardens produced 75 percent more produce in 2011 than during the previous growing season, reports the Luther environmental studies program.  The four garden operations in the Luther Gardens project provided a significant increase in the locally grown foods prepared and served by Luther Dining Services.

"The gardens grew nearly 200 pounds of basil, over 300 pounds of mixed greens and head lettuce, 350 pounds of peppers and over 325 pounds of multi-colored heirloom cherry tomatoes," said Maren Stumme-Diers, sustainable foods educator and coordinator of the Luther Gardens.

All produce grown in Luther Gardens is purchased by Luther Dining Services.

In addition to the daily produce for the Luther Cafeteria, a signature accomplishment of the gardens was the production of 160 pounds of purple, red, orange and yellow carrots.  The colorful carrots were served at the Sesquicentennial luncheon hosted by Luther as part of the October visit by the King and Queen of Norway. 

Stumme-Diers credits the 2011 gardens' production increase to various projects that involve student and staff collaboration. 

"I am grateful for the expertise of facilities staff at Luther," she said. "The carpenters have helped with the construction of raised beds for two garden plots near residence halls, and they built a hoop house that the gardeners could use for starting transplants in the spring and growing spinach in the fall. 

Stumme-Diers said the Luther grounds staff manages the compost pile, tills, helps plan edible landscapes and shares equipment.  Boiler operators helped with projects such as the community garden fence installation, creating a washing station, and bending hoops for the construction of "quick hoops" - low tunnels covering rows of garden plants.

She said another success of the 2011 season was produce from the college's two edible landscaping projects on central campus, both proposed and tended by students. 

Edible landscaping brins edible plants into public view by incorporating fruits, vegetables and herbs into the landscape, Stumme-Diers said

"There are many goals for edible landscaping," she said. "At Luther, one goal is to demonstrate that flowers can be edible, vegetables can be beautiful, and edible plants can have a place on central campus.

"Luther has strong commitments to both sustainability and wellness, and edible landscapes support both those goals," she said.

Wayne Tudor, dining services general manager, suggested that one of the edible landscapes be planted as a salsa garden in 2011so that its produce could be the featured foods at a student event on campus. The salsa garden grew tomatillos, tomatoes, hot peppers, sweet peppers, onions, cilantro and flowers that were served at a salsa bar in Marty's Cybercafé in Dahl Centennial Union during a salsa concert and dance.

The second edible landscape, located between Ylvisaker Hall and Dieseth Hall on the north side of campus, was developed as a Diversity Garden.  Its focus was on the beauty and uniqueness of food plants from all around the world.

The Diversity Garden produced 35 varieties of Asian vegetables, including several types of gourds, radishes, cucumbers and melons. Many of the vegetable varieties may never been grown in northeast Iowa before.

Luther Gardens student worker Shantel Shwarting, a sophomore from Marengo, Iowa, is currently working with the College's Diversity Center to create a vision of what the Diversity Garden will look like next year.

During the 2011 growing season, other garden improvements include improving fencing to control depredation by rabbits, deer and other animals, and erecting quick hoops over rows of produce to extend the growing season by about two months into the fall.

In the Luther Cafeteria, labeling of foods produced in the Luther Gardens was improved to make students more aware of the garden-to-table connections.

Stumme-Diers said one of the most rewarding parts of 2011 Luther Gardens operations was observing the enthusiasm and growth of the gardens' student workers.

"It's really fun to see the leadership qualities that each and every gardener has developed over the course of the season," she said. "It's inspiring to see the enthusiasm of the students as they go about their work in the gardens and continuously come to me with ideas for what we should do next year."