Early History of the Garden (2007-2010)

The FIU Organic Garden was established during the Summer 2007 semester on the southwest corner of the University Park campus, adjacent to the university’s 11-acre Nature Preserve. It was started as a research plot by one of the graduate students for his master's project. Later in Spring 2008, students in the Agroecology Program expanded it as a teaching facility.The invasive Brazilian peppertree that had dominated the garden site was removed and chipped. The resulting mulch was used to fill two new 40’x5’ raised gardening beds that, along with a shade house, comprised the original garden. The raised beds ran north-south and were bordered with black polyurethane plastic sheeting and steel fencing posts (#1 and #2 in Figure 1). The 2,400 ft2 shade house was stocked with gardening tools, supplies, and seeds. Germination tables were built from concrete blocks, lumber, and metal mesh.

With the establishment of the garden came the formation of the FIU Organic Garden Club in 2008. The Garden Club’s founding members, under the direction of faculty advisors, became the garden’s first caretakers. The garden provided many of these students with their first opportunities to learn gardening basics hands-on. Students built soil with leguminous plants and experimented with different intercropping combinations. Lacking any water services during its first semester, the garden was hand-watered by dedicated students who collected water from a spigot at the adjacent baseball field, in 55- gallon barrels that they rolled back to the garden.

Then, in preparation for the Fall 2008 semester, the Agroecology program established 8 new “teaching beds,” within which students from the program’s two core courses (titled Agroecology and Sustainable Agriculture) would perform garden projects as part of their coursework. These teaching beds allowed for a new hands-on element in the Agroecology program’s curriculum. The plots each measured 4’x10’ and were bordered with CMU (concrete) blocks.

Also during Summer 2008, a 10’x12’ pond was established within a 19’x23’ herb garden (see Figure 1). A weekly FIU Organic Farmers’ Market was launched late in the semester, on December 3 (Bacigalupa, 2008). The Spring 2009 semester saw the rapid expansion of Garden Club membership and gardening space and projects. The space dedicated to raised beds was doubled, with the construction of 8 new community gardening beds directly south of the teaching beds. Garden Club members were assigned plots within the new beds. Students also added a meditation plot, a fruit grove, a composting area (hot composting and vermiculture), and a rain-catchment structure. Enthusiasm was high as students were building, cultivating, experimenting, and learning from each other. Students shared techniques, engaged in creative problem-solving, and learned through trial and error.

During the Fall 2009 semester, two new beds were added: a new “market bed” (production exclusively for the on-campus farmers’ market) and a keyhole flower bed. Spring 2010, the FIU Organic Garden was named a “People’s Garden” by the USDA. Also during 2010, one of the program’s graduate students, whose thesis topic relates to native plants as sources of biofuel, established a biofuels demonstration plot to the north of the shade house (see Figure 1). This area includes jatropha, simaruba, moringa, and the leguminous (N-fixing) pongamia.