SLUG gives opportunity to get down, dirty with plants

Tara McGovern

Now that the weather is nice, most Lawrence students agree that it is time to relieve the tension that comes from months stuck inside a dorm studying with the same old grumps. Many have chosen to get out and do something productive and good for their health, the earth, and the Lawrence community.
The Sustainable Lawrence University Garden has plenty of volunteer opportunities for Lawrence students, faculty and the Appleton community to get down and dirty in the garden.
SLUG is a non-profit organization that sells produce within the community. Did you know that most of the produce at Downer is from California or South America? When food is not in season here, it takes a lot of fuel and labor to provide even the simplest of fruits and vegetables.
SLUG provides produce for Downer during specific parts of the year and opens a booth at the farmers’ market on College Avenue every Saturday during the summer as well.
SLUG workers are also planning on selling produce directly from the garden on Wednesdays during the summer months. This will allow people from the community, students on the campus during the summer, and professors and their families to interact with the environment where their food comes from.
Having a second day for sales is ideal, said garden managers Matthew Lineal and Megan Bjella. Selling produce on Wednesdays allows for less waste of produce, since during the summer months a ripe tomato will not last a week for the next Saturday’s farmer’s market.
SLUG started in 2005 and has brought a lot to Lawrence and the Appleton community as well. New ideas are still blossoming and every year the garden requires a lot of work, but it also provides students and community members who choose to participate in it a source of pride and accomplishment.
This season’s planting started a month and a half ago, said Lineal and Bjella. Students planted beds of peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs and leafy greens in an almost-hidden back room on the first floor of Briggs and moved them into the greenhouse where they have been watered twice a day and are growing to new heights daily.
The baby tomato plants and cucumbers brought pride and joy to the faces of Lineal and Bjella when they gave me a tour of the greenhouse. “It’s a lot of work,” said Lineal, but it definitely seemed worth it.
There are some exciting plants growing this year, including some of the hottest peppers in the world. “Most of these varieties are heirlooms,” explained Lineal, “which implies old seeds. Basically, over time farmers took to growing specific varieties and ignored others.”
This is because certain varieties had a higher yield or a particular flavor, Lineal said, and these varieties became the standard. Heirlooms are seeds that have not been grown in some time, but have been preserved.
“This is how you get seeds for three-pound tomatoes or beautiful green striped tomatoes, etcetera,” the senior concluded.
The managers estimate 30 to 40 volunteers showed up to help till the gardens and set up the new hoop house on Earth Day. The hoop house is the latest investment and project in the garden – it provides a sheltered environment where plants can be grown a month before and after the normal growing season.
There have even been reports from a local farmer that he was able to grow specific plants all year round – yes, in Wisconsin!
The next few weeks will be busy for SLUG in preparation for the upcoming growing season, and there will be plenty of opportunities to help out. Transferring plants to the garden will begin May 15 and the beds need to be prepared and ready to go by then.
If you want to help the positive efforts going into feeding our community with locally produced food, e-mail for more information.