A Garden Grows at Mason

Posted: October 25, 2011 at 4:09 pm, Last Updated: October 27, 2011 at 11:31 am

By Lisa M. Gerry

Alumnae Amanda Wall, left, and Danielle Wyman, Mason sustainability projects specialist, pick corn in the Potomac Heights garden. Photo by Evan Cantwell

As have many recent graduates, Danielle Wyman, BA Conflict Analysis and Resolution ’08, took a trip abroad the summer after her last semester at Mason. But while some of her classmates were indulging in much deserved R&R, Wyman spent two weeks working on a farm in Costa Rica with the organization Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms.

“It was a hugely transformative experience for me,” she says. “Up to that point, I hadn’t quite grasped the importance of our connection to the land.”

Inspired to share what she had learned, she returned to Mason and made a pitch to start an on-campus vegetable garden. Mason accepted, and in spring 2009, Wyman, now the university’s sustainability projects specialist, and her co-worker, Colin Bennett, broke ground in the courtyard behind the Potomac Heights residence hall.

But there was just one problem: The soil was mostly clay with a little bit of grass on top.

“Everything we planted died,” Wyman says. “So we spent a lot of time — when we weren’t crying over our dead plants — amending the soil.” They gathered leaf litter from a nearby waste facility and manure from local horse farms to condition the soil.

After a rough start, the garden is now flourishing. Photo by Evan Cantwell

Then, the following spring, they planted again, this time with the help of the newly formed student club, the Mason Organic Garden Association. “Without these incredible, dedicated students, the garden would not be the success that it is today,” Wyman says.

Today, the garden is flourishing and produces an abundance of fruits, vegetables and herbs — everything from cherries, pomegranates and kiwis to tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and lavender. More than half of the garden’s produce is donated to a local food bank, Food for Others; another percentage goes to regular volunteers, some is sold to Mason Dining, and a portion is sold on campus to raise funds for the garden.

Wyman hopes that the garden teaches the Mason community what it means to sustain itself, gives them an opportunity to work alongside each other and promotes an appreciation for what the earth provides.

“There’s something really special that happens when you’re working with people in the garden,” she says. “And being outside in the fresh air, feeling the sunlight, putting your hands in the dirt, growing delicious food — how can you not fall in love with the environment?”

This article originally appeared in the fall 2011 Mason Spirit.

Write to mediarel at gazette@gmu.edu