It’s a special NDSU outreach program where it really helps to have a green thumb.
Visualize this: a window ledge of a campus apartment is lined with paper cups brimming with carefully tended vegetables. During the winter months, that was a common scene in NDSU’s Living Learning Center residence hall.
In a project called “Grow It Forward,” 40 to 50 student volunteers helped water and prune a variety of garden plants, either at the NDSU greenhouses or in their own living quarters. Their objective is to have the produce eventually go to people in the community who could use a helping hand.
“Some students had one plant, some had eight and one apartment looked like a jungle,” said Tim McCue, Living Learning Center hall director, noting all the seeds were donated by Baker Nursery in Fargo. “We might be pushing 600 to 800 plants this year. There’s everything from tomatoes to peppers, eggplants to watermelons.”
The project partners with Nativity Church of Fargo and CHARISM, a non-profit, neighborhood-based organization that provides programming for low-income children and families. Both operate community gardens, which often serve new Americans and people in need. The plants from the Grow It Forward project were scheduled to be transplanted into those gardens May 20-24.
The project features collaboration with Residence Life, NDSU Academic Affairs and the Department of Plant Sciences.
McCue sees Grow It Forward as an important learning and sharing exercise that does not involve a book or a classroom. “Our students wanted to make a larger impact on the Fargo-Moorhead community that reached beyond the NDSU campus. They’ve done that, and it’s neat to see them have an impact in such a positive way,” he said.
This is the second successful year for Grow It Forward. Started in October 2011 by Amy Ganguli, the former faculty-in-residence for the Living Learning Center, the effort contributed about 500 garden plants in its first year. Students were enthusiastic about the program and many pushed to continue it last fall.
Living Learning Center hall government members were the primary student organizers. Carrie Dahlquist, a junior majoring in construction management from Stillwater, Minn., was hall government president. Even though the three plants she tried to grow all died, she gave the project high marks.
“This was a good opportunity for us to reach out to the community,” Dahlquist said. “It’s not a conventional program, and it gets people involved. It opened some eyes and gave us a better understanding of the need for things like this in Fargo-Moorhead.”
Alan Zuk, assistant professor of plant sciences, served as the faculty liaison for the project. “The students learned how to cultivate, water and fertilize the seedlings until they reached the proper planting size,” he said. “I found it very rewarding to work with these caring individuals who took the time to help people that they have never met and also found a way to make their sacrifice an enjoyable experience for all involved.”
The hope now is to build upon the success of the program.
According to Julie Gunkelman, CHARISM Neighborhood Center’s executive director, it has the potential to become a significant connection between students and neighboring at-risk communities. “This spring we are going to share garden plants. Next year we may share something more; for just as plants start as small seeds and grow into bountiful produce, so also do friendships and respect,” she said. “We hope the Grow It Forward partnership will continue to develop and grow as strong as the garden plants themselves.”
NDSU is recognized as one of the nation's top 108 public and private universities by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education.