Plant a Seed, Do a Deed

posted May 2, 2011, 4:54 PM by Helen Lam   [ updated May 2, 2011, 8:36 PM by Jen Mankoff ]

The “eat local” movement has become increasingly popular in recent times and is very supportive of regional culture and economy.  It also has a legitimate environmental impact.  The most obvious positive effect of eating local in “green” terms is the miles saved by not having to transport (or refrigerate) food for extended periods of time.  These miles are regarded as the distance consumables must travel in order to reach the consumer.  These travels generate carcinogens, greenhouse gases, volatile organic compounds, and other harmful gases in the process.  “Food miles” also consume a significant amount of fossil fuel.  If food is grown and consumed locally however, we can reduce all of these negative side effects and reduce our ecological footprint significantly.

Locally grown consumables also have the additional advantage of not having to be packaged as completely as food distributed by large grocery manufacturers.  This packaging helps to preserve and protect the food during transportation, but since these items are transported a shorter distance when locally grown, much of this packaging is no longer necessary.  The crates used by local farmers are also generally reused and brought back which is in stark environmental contrast to the large manufacturers that use disposable items (re: pallets) which are cheaper to leave (and oftentimes dispose of) at their final destination than ship back.


The second facet of this project is the desire to connect students with a natural environment largely devoid in their daily lives. Carnegie Mellon University, like many universities and colleges, maintains a campus with an extensive lawn. While on the surface a lawn is “green” and composed of plant matter, lawns are analogous to industrial agriculture--a symbol of humanity’s desire to impose order and cleanliness upon nature. In fact, students who spend a majority of their time on campus do not have many opportunities to engage with “natural” processes. One of our major goals was to help re-frame the way students interacted with nature on a daily basis.

To achieve these goals, we experimented with the notion of a new campus garden that could facilitate such human-nature interaction.  We wanted to make sure it was positioned at a location that was prominent and visible to the majority of the student body, and it was for this reason that we chose “the Cut” at the center of campus. In particular, we chose to target the area closest to the Fence, a realm of campus generally accepted by students and administration alike to be student territory. We began by creating a mobile planting bed out of wood and rolled it into place.  Next we planted half of the garden bed ourselves but left tools and seed packets on the soil of the other half.  The goal was to see if we could engage the local student body to plant the other side of the bed as we had done already, using semantic and minor textual cues to invite interaction.

An installation such as a campus garden could help foster a closer student community by encouraging students to interact with the planting beds by asking them to “leave a plant or take a plant.”  Another method might be to create a more structured system of maintenance for the flora.  Indeed, planting beds are often not strictly governed by the university, but instead by the students. In this regard, it may be appropriate to observe other spontaneous community phenomenon on campus such as the Carnegie Mellon Fence.





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Jen Mankoff,
May 2, 2011, 5:06 PM
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Jen Mankoff,
May 2, 2011, 5:06 PM
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Jen Mankoff,
May 2, 2011, 5:06 PM
ą
Jen Mankoff,
May 2, 2011, 5:06 PM
ą
Jen Mankoff,
May 2, 2011, 5:06 PM
ą
Jen Mankoff,
May 2, 2011, 5:06 PM
ą
Jen Mankoff,
May 2, 2011, 5:06 PM
ą
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Jen Mankoff,
May 2, 2011, 5:06 PM
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