From seed to feed... farm to fork... bumper-crop to tabletop. The Strategic Energy Institute is growing an urban garden! Harvest season will bring an abundance of aromatic herbs and healthy vegetables. But first, why would an organization that supports cutting-edge energy research grow a garden?
Energy involves more than the ongoing operation of the modern conveniences to which we’ve grown accustomed. Energy is innately connected to sustainability and... Urban gardens support sustainability. Sustainability is a goal of clean energy. Clean, renewable energy ensures the longevity of our planet and its natural systems. So, growing an urban garden space creates a living, tangible example of the Strategic Energy Institute's continuous commitment to clean, renewable energy.
In order to accomplish the goal of clean energy, the Strategic Energy Institute partners with several Georgia Tech divisions also dedicated to this pursuit, including the Office of Campus Sustainability which supports a number of energy efficiency activities through education programs and funding initiatives. One such initiative is the Work Green Program.
Sarah Neville is the Sustainability Coordinator for the Office of Campus Sustainability. She also manages the Work Green Certification Program. “Georgia Tech recognizes the environmental challenges we face and is committed to confronting them on campus, in our community, and beyond. The Work Green program is one component of the Office of Campus Sustainability’s efforts; one that empowers Georgia Tech staff to play an integral role in achieving the Institute’s sustainability goals,” she says. “The Office of Campus Sustainability is excited to partner with the Strategic Energy Institute who, through their community garden, is tapping into the unique expertise of its staff to green our campus and foster a stronger sense of community in their office.”
In order to encourage participation in its ongoing sustainability efforts throughout the campus, Neville’s department recently accepted proposals for an offshoot of the Work Green Program - Work Green Mini-Grants - that promote sustainable activities and behaviors on campus. The Strategic Energy Institute is one of the recipients.
The Strategic Energy Institute was chosen to receive a Work-Green Mini-Grant to further encourage the growth and development of environmentally sound processes, procedures, and best practices in campus work spaces. The award funding was used to create a raised bed urban garden that could be utilized and appreciated by the SEI staff as well as the students and faculty located within the office environment – the CNES building in the North Avenue Research Area.
SEI Work Green Ambassador Marcela Moreno recruited a “Green Team” to assist with creating and maintaining a garden. In addition to Moreno, the team benefited from the knowledge and expertise of team member Alex Collins, who led the design and installation of the raised garden beds, and Jhai James who participated in the construction. "One of the goals we established in our Work Green plan was to take the sustainable choices we make at work back to our lives outside of Georgia Tech," said Moreno. "This garden is an opportunity for staff to bond while learning how to make a raised bed garden. We are gaining skills that provide personal benefits and contribute to reaching sustainability goals.”
The team worked together to create two raised garden beds that will produce cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, beans, and peppers, as well as a variety of herbs including basil, sage, thyme, and mint.
Since its creation, the SEI urban garden has also become an avenue to pursue additional sustainability initiatives: wildflowers were seeded to decrease the effects of soil erosion, and composting bins were placed in the building break room and near the garden to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. The result of these additional initiatives is small-scale activities of larger solutions that benefit the environment and reduce the effects of climate change. For example, composting kitchen and garden waste can significantly reduce our contribution to global warming pollution, particularly methane, a greenhouse gas which has been increasing in recent years. Composting also provides an excellent source of nutrients for the SEI garden, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers that pollute water systems and take a considerable amount of energy to produce.
There have already been several “harvests” from the garden that have been used to make healthy dishes such as a Caprese salad with garden-fresh basil.
The team invites you to keep up with the progress of the SEI garden in our Facebook photo album. We'll also share recipes inspired by the vegetables and herbs growing in our garden like this delicious Caprese salad!