The Porter School of Environmental Studies (PSES) at Tel Aviv University supports a new garden initiative: How do you stop peacocks from the neighboring garden, that just love the vegetables in your own little hard-won patch of green? Or the mole rat that happily digs its tunnels under the roots? (Especially when you firmly believe that every creature has a right to live and thrive…)
How do you convince a busy, overstressed cafeteria manager to take the trouble and separate organic wastes just for you? How do you build “herb spirals” and “lasagna beds” to maximize crops in a city setting? This is just a small sample of the numerous challenges faced by a handful of committed, environmentally aware students from Tel Aviv University, who set out to create the University’s first sustainable urban garden.
“Sustainable urban agriculture is modern society’s insurance policy against the increasing environmental uncertainty of our age. It eliminates our dependence on mass production and brings food directly to our doorstep,” explains Sagit Uzan of PSES, a leading member of the Organic Garden Group, who is now completing her Master’s thesis on “The Ecology of the TAU Campus.”
And indeed, the new garden joins a worldwide trend: many academic institutions – Princeton University, Columbia University, the University of Alberta, the University of New Hampshire and the Australia National University at Canberra, to name just a few – already run substantial on-campus urban farming initiatives, “so that we have some excellent models to emulate and learn from,” says Tamar Neugarten, a PSES student conducting research on “Community Gardening,” and an active member of the urban garden team.
The new garden was established on a modest patch of land allotted by the Director of the TAU Botanical Garden, Prof. Jacob Garty, and already in its first season, it sprouted some excellent initiatives – together with an abundance of tasty vegetables, fragrant herbs and ravishing flowers. Meeting in the garden once a week, the students experimented with various methods of sustainable organic agriculture:
In carefully prepared and tended organic beds they planted tomatoes, eggplants and zucchini, followed by pepper, cucumbers, melons, corn, pumpkin and chickpea, as well as dahlias, sunflowers, tagetes and chamomile. They built a special “herb spiral” that provided more space and optimal conditions for their oregano, rosemary, basil, sage and berry seeds; and they used goat manure (from the next door Zoological Garden), newspapers, dry hay, weeds and leaves to create layered “lasagna beds” in the best spirit of Permaculture.
They collected organic waste from campus cafeterias to create a generous compost heap, and brewed their own compost tea; and then, to non-violently guard the beautiful outcome of their efforts, they set up protective nets against peacocks, mole rats and other hungry creatures…
And when they had finished, the untiring young enthusiasts lay out even more ambitious plans for the future. The program for 2009 alone includes enriching the garden’s biodiversity by attracting birds and toads, testing environmental methods for conserving water, utilizing solar energy and recycling wastes, and even implementing ecological building techniques.
“We see our new initiative as a potential hub for many environment-oriented activities and interdisciplinary networking and collaboration throughout Tel Aviv University,” envisions Danny Harel, a founder of the garden initiative, who is working on his PhD at TAU’s Dept. of Plant Sciences. “Research projects, academic courses, workshops, special lectures – on topics as far apart as biodiversity and eco-philosophy – can all benefit from this real-life, hands-on ecological laboratory.”
More on the Porter School:
Green Events At The Porter School for Environmental Studies
The Politics of Water, Study It Red or Dead at the Porter School of Environmental Studies
Geotectura To Build Israel’s Greenest Building For The Porter School of Environmental Studies