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Food is a basic necessity of life and so it should come as no surprise that a large number of colleges and universities across North America have begun to recognize food as an important component in campus sustainability as well. More than 100 higher education institutions have established community campus gardens. With names ranging from SLUG (Student Led Unity Garden at The University of Portland) and VEGI (Vanderbilt Educational Garden Initiative, Vanderbilt University) to “The Burning Kumquat” at the Washington University in St. Louis and “The Forge Garden” at Santa Clara University, these gardens invite many and varied participants, and develop communities that cultivate knowledge of place, along with numerous bushels of tomatoes, snap peas, corn, beets, carrots and other delectable veggies.

Students at the University of New Hampshire harvest fresh salad greens at the UNH Organic Garden.

Often run by active student organizations like the UNH Organic Garden Club, community gardens oftentimes incorporate blogs and social networking systems into their operation, and sometimes hire qualified individuals to lead the initiatives. This ‘growing’ trend may help to lay the groundwork for a future where a network of farmers’ markets, food co-operatives, CSA (community supported agriculture) farms and community gardens will greatly reduce average food miles, and help us transition to a more sustainable food system.

Recognizing the connections between gardening and sustainability, AASHE’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) includes a “tier two” credit for campuses that have an on-campus garden in the co-curricular education section of the rating system.