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Sustaibably cultivating a garden: a student’s guide to growing their own food
Sustaibably cultivating a garden: a student’s guide to growing their own food

Sustaibably cultivating a garden: a student’s guide to growing their own food

By Coya Pair Indy Staff Writer

Sunday, April 26, 2020 | Number of views (6160)

Students can grow their own food, whether it is indoors, outdoors or through volunteering at community gardens. Though giving space, time or money can sound intimidating, there are several ways to work around these issues.

How to grow food outdoors 

In order to have an outdoor garden, students often run into issues with their landlords, Maggie Magierski, campus growing spaces steward and local food security team coordinator, said. 

“Most landlords don’t want you breaking up the ground, especially if you’re going to move out next year,” she said. 

If one does have space and permission to create an outdoor garden, the initial start-up can be the most time-consuming and intimidating part, Magierski said. 

First, there needs to be fertile soil in the garden bed, she said.

“People often don’t understand the difference between dirt and soil,” Magierski said. “Dirt is dead, but soil is alive and rich with nutrients and microorganisms.”

In order to turn dirt into soil, store-bought fertilizer is the simplest way to go. However many of these packaged fertilizers are stocked with synthetics that won’t grow the most sustainable crops, she said. 

Good fertilizer has three key components, nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, Magierski said. 

To avoid buying a lot of fertilizer, animal manure or compost can be implemented to create fertile soil. 

“Bone meal and chicken pellets are incredible sources of nitrogen,” she said. 

Growing legumes is also a great technique, Magierski said. 

“They’re the only plant that can fixate nitrogen from the air,” she said. 


To create compost, there are several options such as leaving an open mound of food scraps outside, buying a rotating compost bin, or paying a company to pick up food scraps and turn them into compost themselves, Magierski said. 

Keeping an outdoor compost pile is both unappealing to landlords and can attract bears, she said. 

Magierski and her roommates pay a company to pick up their food scraps because with their tight school schedules it is the easiest thing for them, she said. 

Other ways to compost include buying composting worms or fermentation powder, FLC student and at-home gardener, Zoe Van Nortwick, said. 

“We just have some worms in a recycled spring-mix container that break down our food waste for us,” Van Nortwick said. “It only takes them like three days to break down the inside of a banana peel.” 

Van Nortwick lives in a small apartment, so composting worms is the simplest method for her, she said.

“My mom has more space, and a large outdoor garden to put her compost,” she said. “So she uses the Bokashi method.”

Bokashi is a system that includes a fermenting powder that you sprinkle on food waste, which eliminates smell and speeds up the composting process, Van Nortwick said. 

Once the soil is rich with nutrients, it is important to grow food that is adaptable to Durango’s climate, Magierski said. 

“Corn, beans and squash are great companion plants for this region,” Magierski said. 

These particular companion plants are what Native Americans told the pilgrims to plant, she said. 

“Indeginous agriculture in this region is very rich in history, Magierski said.  “The pueblo people just had an amazing techniques.” 

How to grow food indoors

If outdoor gardening space is not permitted, there are plenty of beginner ways to grow food indoors, Magierski said. 

“Sprouting is a very easy, entry-level way to get into growing food,” Magierski said.

Magierski has sprouted sunflower seeds and beans, she said.

“You can buy a raw sunflower seed in the store and just eat it,” Magierski said. “But if you plant it in the ground and sprout it, you get so many more nutrients from that.” 

To sprout sunflower seeds, Magierski uses a shallow, recycled plastic container, like a strawberry package, fills it with one inch of soil, plants raw sunflower seeds from the store, waters them lightly and sets them in her window seal to grow, she said. 

In order to sprout beans, you put them in a mason jar and fill to the top with water, she said. 

“All you have to do is change the water every day so they don’t get moldy,” she said. “But soon enough you have a jar full of sprouts.” 

Van Nortwick has an entire herb garden in her tiny apartment, she said. 

“It’s so amazing to make your own pesto out of basil you’ve grown,” she said. 

Van Nortwick keeps her herb garden on a few tables in the corner of their living room with grow lights on at night, she said. 

How to volunteer 

There are plenty of local garden volunteer opportunities in Durango, Magierski said. 

One of these opportunities for students is to help work in the campus garden or food forest through the Fort Lewis College Environmental Center. 

The campus garden requires more maintenance, and the food forest is more of a wild, biodiverse orchard, Magierski said. 

“The best way to know what is going on and to get involved is to sign up for the EC Digest or the campus garden weekly newsletter,” Magierski said. 

The garden weekly newsletter was created to attract volunteers, and there is always space for them, Magierski said. 

Volunteers can take home produce on some occasions, but are not entitled to it, Magierski said. 

“We like to share our produce with dedicated volunteers who come week after week,” she said. “

Most of the food is sold to Sodexo to use in campus meals, she said. This money keeps the campus garden and food forest going, and pays garden employees, she said.

Other places to volunteer include the Ohana Kuleana community garden and the Manna Soup Kitchen community garden, Magierski said. 

Why it is important 

Growing food can influence diet, sense of community and mental health, Magierski said. 

“I grew up eating a lot of processed food and meat,” Magierski said.

Magierski had a garden growing up, which helped start her passion for growing food, she said. 

Now Magierski has a plant-based diet and doesn’t feel such a disconnect with her food, she said. 

“If you ask a kid where their food comes from, they’ll say the store,” Magierski said. “They don’t actually know how it’s grown.” 

People not only have a disconnect from their food, but from each other, Magierski said. 

Van Nortwick grew up with a garden in New Zealand, where people could come and pick veggies and we welcomed to cook in her home, she said.

Magierski has met so many people and made so many friends through garden workdays and potlucks, she said. 

The message Magierski wants to send through food is how important it is to have a healthy planet and environment to be able to grow food, Magierski said. 

“Consumer capitalism focuses on exponential growth, which is impossible,” she said. “Our species is facing extinction. It’s depressing.”

For Magierski, working in the garden helps ease her climate change anxiety, she said. 

Getting dirty and growing food can be therapeutic to anyone, Magierski said. 

This type of therapy can be called ‘earthing', a term coined to people connecting to the planet through bare feet or hands, she said. 

Growing food indoors can be therapeutic too, Van Nortwick said. 

“It brings life to your home,” Van Nortwick said. “You gain an appreciation for this life.” 

Aside from benefiting her own mental health, Magierski feels like growing food is a form of climate change activism, she said. 

“We’re doing just as much as the protesters in DC through sustainable agriculture,” she said.


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