Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The Student Eats Project

Justin Groves, a final year Undergraduate studying Applied Ecology and Conservation at the University of Reading has written an interesting guest blog for us about volunteering and the Student Eats project......

I had just been appointed President of Reading University Botanika Society when I was asked by RUSU to attend a meeting about a new vegetable growing project on campus. RUSU had received funding from the National Union of Students (NUS) to develop a vegetable garden and given that Botanika undertake just that sort of thing, we were very keen to get involved.

It was by sheer chance that during the summer holidays, whilst on my Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP) placement on biodiversity, that I stumbled across the rather derelict and forgotten Bridges Hall Walled Garden. I could instantly see the potential to make this area an excellent social and sustainable growing space for students to enjoy. As with any project, it has taken time and patience to get off the ground, but since the end of January we have had a great team of students visiting each week and overseeing its transformation.

As a result of the NUS 'Student Eats' funding, which supports institutions across the UK in cultivating their
own student-led growing sites for fruit and vegetables, we took the decision to change the name of the Botanika Society to Student Eats Botanika and amalgamate it into the NUS  initiative, so that RUSU and the society did not conflict. This has allowed the society to lead the project and has provided our members with the most fantastic space within which to work. The task ahead is considerable, given that the garden has not been tended for over five years and as a result is very overgrown.Plans were drawn up of the intended layout of the garden, although this has changed and evolved over the period as the garden has started to establish itself.

Since January, around a dozen student volunteers have helped out at every session; despite some of the most atrocious weather. Together we have worked tirelessly in reclaiming at least a third of the garden that had been lost to scrub, marking out beds and giving the shed a much needed tidy!

Since the start of the year, over 260 hours have been put into this project by volunteers and with spring at last here, this will increase as the lighter evenings make volunteering to help much easier for both for students and members of the community.

We hope to grow the student volunteer base further, as well as involving RUSU and University staff and the local community. The project has funding for a three year period and after that the challenge will be that the garden will need to sustain itself by way of selling the produce to generate money to cover the running costs.
The more volunteers we have involved the better and joining the volunteer team is simple. Check out our Facebook page and blog, or pop in to Student Activities Centre in the Students' Union to have a chat to the Volunteer Co-ordinator about the project.
Hope to see you at the Walled Garden soon.
Justin Groves
3rd Year
BSc Applied Ecology and Conservation

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