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Affinity Gardens

Sustainability initiatives continue to grow at Ohio Northern.

The much-quoted African proverb Ora na azu nwa states that it takes a village to raise a child. At Ohio Northern University, a new sustainability initiative is seeing a village raise the food to feed them.

  • ONU built 10 4-foot-by-10-foot raised beds in the green space at Affinity Village.
  • Produce harvested from the Affinity Gardens will be donated to Ada community organizations.
  • Student organizations have adopted the beds and will tend to them during the academic year.
  • The project is funded by the Office of University Sustainability.

The Affinity Gardens project has recently transformed the green space of ONU’s Affinity Village residence community into a modern-day victory garden where student organization-adopted raised garden beds will grow fresh organic produce for the Ada community. Vegetables harvested from 10 4-foot-by-10-foot raised garden beds throughout the summer will be donated to the Ada Food Pantry and the ReStore Community Center, complementing and supplementing the nonperishable food items these agencies provide to the community members they serve.

“The Affinity Gardens project is one of the many ways in which the University is using its talent and resources to help local charitable organizations in our community,” says ONU First Lady and Director of Community Relations Chris Burns-DiBiasio.

DiBiasio and Director of University Sustainability Terry Keiser championed the community garden project. It is the latest in a series of endeavors under the ONU Sustainability Initiative, a multifaceted effort to promote growth in several areas of sustainability, alternative energy and environmental stewardship. The Affinity Gardens is a low-tech solution to address these issues and, most importantly, gets students involved with the process.

“Sustainability has to involve students. It can’t just be top-down types of things,” says Keiser. “With this project, students are heavily involved. They helped construct the beds, they planted the cold-weather seeds, and the biology department is growing the warm-weather crops in the greenhouse so they will be ready to plant when the time comes. But most importantly, by having different student organizations adopt a garden bed, there is a sense of ownership over this project that should bode well for its success.”

“I like the fact that the Affinity Gardens are more student-focused. I feel that it will add to the success of the program while promoting student involvement on campus,” says Chris Leiby, a fourth-year pharmacy major from Warren, Ohio. “I would like to see more opportunities like this that allow students to further get involved with sustainability.”

Currently, ONU’s Office of Residence Life, the Student National Pharmaceutical Association, Phi Mu Delta, Kappa Psi, Delta Zeta, Global Village, Theta Chi, Alpha Xi Delta and SODEXO/Dining Services are all involved with the project. On Earth Day, April 22, 2014, students from these groups, along with local community organizations and ONU faculty and staff, came together to sow the first seeds.

“I was very impressed by the amount of faculty members who showed up to help plant the gardens,” says Gideon Amofa, a resident assistant in Affinity East and key contributor to the project. “So far, the project has been very successful in terms of student involvement, faculty involvement and the overall interest from residents of Ada.”

Affinity Gardens employs raised-bed gardening, an increasingly popular approach to growing herbs and vegetables that uses less space and provides greater yields than conventional row gardening. Within the beds, vegetables are planted using the square-foot gardening method, which requires less work, less weeding and less watering. This will be important in the summer when a local Girl Scout troop and an Ada little league baseball team will be maintaining the beds and harvesting vegetables.

Keiser is developing a planting cycle for the gardens to ensure constant harvesting and a variety of vegetables, including peppers, onions, lettuce, squash, carrots, broccoli, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage and radishes. It may sound like a lot, but with proper planning, Keiser says, one raised bed the size of the ones used in the Affinity Gardens can provide a family with many of the fresh vegetables they need.

“It kind of harkens back to the victory gardens of World War II, the idea that everyone can provide food for themselves,” he says. “We’ve got to start paying attention to where our food comes from. It’s something we need to instill in our students, because it’s going to become more and more important in the future.”