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See our Affiliate! Gardens, Growing a Trend by Tim Tillman

Tim Tillman is with the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) and an affiliate of Keep Oklahoma Beautiful. This man has streamlined many great things for the university and it's sustainability.
Tim will be retiring from UCO at the end of this year.
We are sad to see him go, but we know he is going on to change the world!

Gardens, Growing a Trend
By Tim Tillman, Coordinator of Sustainability/Alternative Transportation
at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond


When asked to write this story, I promised myself that there would be no puns. After vegetating for a while, I chose not to squash my style. Here goes nothin'!

Central students are a fascinating bunch. It seems that whenever the older, wiser heads say, "The students will never use/do/participate in...," then the student body quickly proves them wrong. Nobody will ride a bicycle to campus, "they" said. Students won't use public transit! Once again, the numbers don't lie. Then the big one, "Students have no interest in gardening. That's for old people."

In the spring of 2014, Central partnered with the Edmond YMCA to take over management of the garden on Rankin Street. Eric Hemphill, coordinator of UCO's Volunteer Service Learning Center, and his team leapt into action. They arranged registration for the gardening beds, drew up contracts and marketed the partnership. Within a week, all 14 raised beds were claimed by individual students, faculty and staff.

The waiting list continued to grow throughout the season as more and more individuals from the Central community and beyond wated to be a part of the project. A workday was organized, and Bronchos turned out to clean and prepare for planting. By summer, the beds were overflowing with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash, carrots, lettuce and assorted herbs. There was even a strawberry bed that housed a couple of ambitious bunnies. Sounds wonderful, right? It was, and it gets event better.

In 2012, campus volunteers opened the Central Pantry in a partnership with the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma to provide food and hygiene products to any campus member in need. Coordinated through the UCO Volunteer Service Learning Center, the pantry has become a model for other colleges and universities wanting to set up a similar program.

In setting up the gardening program, it seemed only natural to make it a part of the Central Pantry effort. So, as part of the responsibility of maintaining a bed, all gardeners agreed to donate 50 percent of their yield to the Central Pantry. Most of the gardeners gave much more than the 50 percent, and some donated 100 percent of their yield. Needless to say, fresh vegetables  were a huge hit with Central pantry users. The produce seemed to fly off the shelves.

Once word of the successful experiment spread, new projects started sprouting everywhere. Two students recently presented a proposal to Edmond's Boulevard Academy to introduce a gardening project to the school. The city of Edmond Parks and Recreation department is studying a garden project for Mitch Park and even the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma has expressed an interst in UCO's project. Other universities and colleges are calling and emailing to learn from UCO's model.

Now for the lessons-learned part. Lesson No. 1 -- We have an amazing resource in the students and staff at Central's Volunteer Service Learning Center. Their ability to organize quickly and respond to new opportunities is something to see! Lesson No. 2 -- Bronchos have no problem getting dirt under their nails, and if they can give something to someone less fortunate, they don't hesitate. Lesson No. 3 -- Great ideas spread fast!

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