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College dedicates Unity Garden

Anna Boarini | Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Saint Mary’s Unity Garden will stand as a symbol of social justice and sustainability, Director of Justice Education Jan Pilarski said.

The garden, located in front of Havican Hall, was dedicated Tuesday.

Pilarski said Karen Borja, a 2011 graduate, spearheaded the project. Senior Heather Smith took responsibility for planting the garden this summer as an intern with Unity Gardens, a South Bend nonprofit that advocates community building through gardening.

“I hope this garden becomes something bigger [so] that we can have an option for healthy food that students can grow and learn about,” Smith said.

To achieve that “something bigger,” Smith said she tapped into landscaping services at the College to help her expand the garden.

“When I started planting, I realized the garden was pretty small, so landscaping helped me double the size,” she said. “They did the labor, like tilling the land and building the [wooden support] frames, and I cared for the garden.”

Smith said she enjoyed having the freedom to choose what vegetables went into the garden.

“I went with a salad theme for the garden. If students saw okra or a huge head of cabbage, they might not know what to do with it,” she said, “I planted lots of leafy lettuce, mustard greens, kale, swish chard, tomatoes and herbs.”

On Mondays over the summer, preschoolers from the Early Childhood Development Center, which has its own Unity Garden, joined Smith to help weed and pick vegetables, she said.

“It was great to have them out there, helping, tasting lettuce,” Smith said. “They were great.”

Smith said the garden raised her awareness about local food security problems.

“There are some people who need healthy food but can’t get it from anywhere else [other than the Unity Gardens],” she said.

The garden was made possible through the Dooley Endowment, a fund intended for student-initiated social justice projects, Pilarski said. The endowment is named after Saint Mary’s alumnus Katherine T. Dooley, ’28.

“She was passionate about social justice and Saint Mary’s,” Pilarski said.

There are 41 other Unity Gardens of varying sizes in the South Bend area, Sara Stewart, executive director for Unity Gardens, said.

Stewart added that the gardens help close social divisions.

“We live in a society that separates us, and gardens are a natural way to share,” she said. “By bringing together people that would usually never interact, we can see our strengths in different ways.”

Stewart said the interactive aspect of the gardens is more significant than the gardening itself.

“This isn’t just about access to healthy vegetables,” she said. “It’s more about unification of the community and social cohesion.”