August 7 was a very rainy Wednesday in North Georgia, but this didn’t stop a long-planned field trip to Atlanta’s Truly Living Well urban farm. Profs. Jessi Shrout and Teri Nye took the tour of TLW’s Wheat Street location (Rudi Kiefer had to cancel due to a dental emergency), guided by farm manager Ras Kofi.
“The plants are happy, so what’s a bit of rain,” Nye said. The plants were very happy indeed. Brenau’s visitors noticed immediately how healthy the plants look, quite unlike the mineral-fed row crops found at commercial operations out in the country.
“We use compost for plant food, always,” Kofi explained. “The health of the plants, is directly correlated with the health of the soil and compost. And you have to have good starting materials in order to get a good product.” Compost is obtained when plant matter rots under controlled conditions. TLW uses various sources, which include “zoo poop”, whimsically named but self-explanatory, from a firm which retrieves manure from the Atlanta Zoo; free waste from local fruit stands and coffee shops; and mulch from tree services who are usually glad to have a taker for all those shredded cuttings.
Only plant matter is used to make compost, but worms settle in soon after inception of the pile. They are most welcome because they rework and aerate the compost heap. Aerobic bacteria add their own work, generating heat (gardeners call it “cooking” the compost), and facilitating a chemical process which ends up producing nitrates, which are a major fertilizer. Compost also aids in maintaining soil moisture levels, and ensuring a healthy soil texture. Without input of organic matter, North Georgia’s clay soils can easily turn into the red brick-like desert that one can observe on former cotton fields and other mistreated agricultural sites.
Truly Living Well was founded in 2006 by K.Rashid Nuri with the objective to bring nutritionally-rich, fresh-picked produce to local residents through a community supported agriculture program. “People often ask me why our produce costs a little bit more than the frozen stuff from the supermarket,” Nuri said at a 2013 presentation that the 3 Brenau faculty attended also. “I tell them: ‘You can pay me now, or pay a doctor later.’” On the Brenau slate for the 2013-14 academic year is an expansion of the Bioscience Field Station next to the Bamboo Forest. It will include raised beds to facilitate production of common food plants for teaching, research, and donation purposes.
Asked what would be the best scope to start such a project, Kofi’s recommendation was to start small right away rather than waiting to start big at a later date. “Projects like these will grow and expand in their own time, and it can be detrimental to bite off too much in the early stages.” Shrout and Kiefer have already secured grant funding to build the teaching garden, and the fall semester will show how much they can “bite off” the project. The size of the bite will in part depend on student involvement, which was plentiful in the spring term when groups like Alpha Kappa Alpha, Servant Leaders, and several science classes plus machinery from the City of Oakwood helped clear the grounds and produce mulch.
“We hope for plenty of student interest again, of course,” said Shrout. “Another exciting aspect is that we plan to work with a people in the School of Occupational Therapy this fall to create something similar to TLW, but on a smaller scale, using universal design principles. OT students are the future experts in designing installations for human use. This includes handicapped access, but also modes of layout that are ergonomic, and simply make sense.”
If you have never visited the Bamboo Forest, a visit to this unique natural environment is awe-inspiring. “The student groups worked very hard in the spring heat and cleared the grounds from 30-year old trash and debris,” Kiefer said. “With some more landscaping improvements that we have planned for the fall, Bioscience Field Station and the Bamboo Forest will be a fresh asset and teaching venue that serves the entire campus.”
To find the Bamboo Forest, follow the foot path from Jewell Hall downhill past the maintenance shops, and continue in a straight line past the greenhouse.
Assistant Professor of Biology and Lab Director Jessi Shrout, firstname.lastname@example.org
Professor of Phys. Science and Director of Sustainability Dr. Rudi Kiefer, email@example.com
Assistant Professor of Biology Teri Nye, firstname.lastname@example.org