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Urban grown and shared

October 8, 2014

by Paige DeSorbo

The cold is coming quickly but that isn’t stopping the Saint Rose garden on Partridge Street near Alumni Hall.  More than 18 kinds of different all organic vegetables grow at the new addition on the Pine Hills college campus, including cucumbers, rhubarb, chives and peppers. The garden will continue to grow and harvest through the winter months with window frames that will cover the plants. The man behind the garden is Ben Atwood, a graduate student earning his masters of fine arts in creative writing at the college.

Graduate student Ben Atwell works in the garden/Paige DeSorbo

Graduate student Ben Atwell works in the garden/Paige DeSorbo

“I hope to one day combine my love of writing and gardening and maybe work for a non-profit food action organization” said Atwood. “There is beauty in the shape of the beds and how plants look aside one another.”

Atwood not only maintains the garden but also donates almost 95% of the vegetables to the St. Vincent food pantry located at 984 Madison Ave., just across the street from the garden. So far Atwood has donated more than 370 pounds of produce to the pantry and continues to donate one to two times a week since May. The social director at the food pantry Angela Warner said

“We are always excited for fresh produce,” Warner said.

The pantry usually receives 500 pounds of produce a week from the Regional Food Bank.  With Atwood’s contribution he helped more than 1,333 people in the month of August, this includes senior citizens, adults, children, and infants.

Getting the garden started took more than two years for approval. Vice President of Student Affairs Dennis McDonald was not certain there would be enough interest to sustain the project.

“I thought it was a great idea, but I had concerns on whether interest would be sustained over the summer once the spring semester ended,” McDonald said.

Atwood, a Guilderland native, worked on his uncle’s farm as a child. He then moved on to work at Pleasant Valley Farm outside of Saratoga and Neversink farm in the Catskills. The Saint Rose garden is watered daily and the fertilizer is bought from a horse farm Atwood drives to in Albany on Krumkill Road.  Atwood pays $20 per truckload of fertilizer. So far the garden has been fertilized more than three times.

The garden was originally brought to life by Colin Ruggiero, a former music education major at the college.  Ruggiero grew up about an hour south of Albany in the Hudson Valley.  After all the details were worked out with McDonald, Ruggiero started on the garden. He had previously worked on a small vegetable farm before working at the  Saint Rose garden.

“I just wanted to keep growing food and share that opportunity with others,” said Ruggiero. He is currently on a bike tour from California to New York.

Atwood agreed to take over the garden after Ruggiero no longer attended the school. The garden attracts students as well as faculty. Many help Atwood whenever they are free.

English professor David Morrow donated some vegetables including tomatoes, eggplant, and winter squash that he had grown from seed at home.

“I am a big supporter of urban gardening and of people, wherever they live, having a go at growing their own food, which is healthier and tastier,” said Morrow.

Joseph Frank a senior and studio art major helps with the garden when he can.

“I got involved because I appreciate agriculture and because Ben is a friend of mine,”  Frank said.

Another studio art major Josephine Calabro: “I got involved because it was a great idea to have a college garden dedicated to a good cause, I also love gardening.”

Some conversations on campus have included a plan for a a new residence hall right where the garden is located, but no decisions have been made on that plan.

“We looked at another potential location for the garden that we may move forward with either way, because we both think it will provide a better location and a larger plot of land to work. “ said McDonald.

So for now the garden is here to stay and will continue to provide contributions to St. Vincent’s food pantry as well as to produce winter vegetables during the colder weather. The last of the tomatoes are gone, and next up for harvesting will be lettuce, spinach, and cabbage.-30-

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