This spring, the Faculty Student Association (FSA) and Alternative Spring Break Outreach (ASBO) offered a unique and memorable experience to student volunteers in lieu of their annual week-long service trip to another state in the United States. With COVID travel restrictions, ASBO took on a project right here on campus — to revitalize the permaculture gardens.
“We knew it would not be an easy task, but we were up for the challenge to welcome spring and help beautify the campus,” stated Claire Cassidy, ASBO Co-President. For some Seawolves, Spring Break is not equivalent to time off and relaxation, but hard work and dedication as they participate in the Alternative Spring Break Outreach program. ASBO, as it is known on campus, is a student-developed, student-run community service organization that strives to promote civic engagement and social action by involving students to “give back” their Spring Break in favor of contributing to community-based projects.
“Since COVID began, we’ve had to adapt and start new service projects this year, such as making dog blankets for Save-A-Pet animal shelters and decorating and assembling snack bags for kids in Long Island homeless shelters,” explained Sabrina Gheller, ASBO Co-President.
Students worked along with Anthony (Tony) Gentile, FSA Sustainability Coordinator, to carefully weed the in-ground garden beds at the Student Activities Center (SAC). The perennial herbs oregano, chives, marjoram and mint have already started growing and it was important not to harm the existing plants or the irrigation system. After the gardens were weeded, they were ready for new plants to be planted.
In 2019, FSA gave Gentile an award recognizing his outstanding contributions toward continuing the leadership and legacy of sustainability efforts at Stony Brook University. He has created a living laboratory on campus through innovation that directly reduces the University’s ecological footprint and integrates sustainability into the culture of the campus.
Throughout spring, ASBO students will continue with additional gardening projects at the Melville Library outside seating area and East Side Dining to remove dead plants and weeds to make room for new plants from previous flowers’ natural seeding to germinate and grow in the flower box planters. The East Side Dining patio also has raised vegetable beds and ground-based planters that will be cleared of all existing plants and weeds, new soil will be added and then planting will begin.
“FSA is proud to play a pivotal role in achieving the overall sustainability goals of the campus. We enjoy working every day with students, faculty and staff to discover new ways to reduce our environmental footprint,” explained Van Sullivan, FSA Executive Director. FSA is a two-time national award recipient of The National Association of College and University Food Services (NACUFS) Outreach and Education Sustainability Awards, which annually recognizes and honors member institutions that have demonstrated outstanding leadership in the promotion and implementation of environmental sustainability, specifically as it relates to campus dining operations.
Stony Brook Permaculture Garden History
FSA worked with seniors in the Sustainability Studies Program to analyze and design potential campus gardens replacing underused grass lawns. The students volunteered their time to build the raised beds and weed the gardens before planting in early spring. The herbs and vegetables grown in these gardens are used in the dining locations throughout campus. They converted underused grass lawns on the campus into edible, low-maintenance, and easily replicable gardens.
“When we initially developed these gardens the goal of the project was to create a garden that would enhance the visual beauty of the campus, provide healthy ingredients for campus dining, facilitate educational and research opportunities and provide opportunities for social interaction,” said Angela Agnello, FSA’s Director of Marketing and Communications.
Permaculture gardening is based on identifying and growing plants that thrive best in the prevailing climate and local environment. One benefit of Stony Brook’s permaculture garden for students is fresh herbs and vegetables, such as flat-leaf parsley, escarole, bibb lettuce, spinach and peas, which will be used at dining locations on campus. The project was the brainchild of a group of Environmental Planning, Policy and Design majors in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences Sustainability Studies Program.
The project began with building ground level beds. Students assembled the beds, filled them with weed-blocking film and added two soil types — organic garden soil and peat moss. After they mixed the soils, they then added organic fertilizer and finished the beds with river pebbles around the base to optimize drainage. Ensuring the project’s longevity is a challenge because to maintain the permaculture gardens, the FSA needs new volunteers each semester. FSA wants to partner with all students interested in sustainability and gardening to help build on the success of the gardens at the SAC and East Side Dining.
“The more we open up our eyes to better ways of gardening and farming, and becoming a more sustainable culture, we’re changing habits; I think the better off we’ll be as a community, as a culture, as a society,” Gentile said.