The student organization Project V.E.G.G.I.E., Vols Educating about Growing Gardens and Inspiring Environmentalism, has benefited from the extra rainfall this summer. This provides for a green, healthy prospect for the young but growing organization that is UT's first ever community garden.

The group was co-founded two years ago by students Candice Lawton, junior in sustainability, and President Neil Brown, junior in chemical engineering. By maintaining a small garden adjacent to Andy Holt Tower parking garage, the organization keeps up with maintaining their objectives: to educate students on sustainability, encourage community gardening and provide students with a healthier standard of living.

"It's a way for students to save money while they're eating and learn about gardening and sustainability and maybe when they go out into the real world they can start some community gardens in their neighborhoods," Brown said.
The organization's faculty advisor is Michael Mckinney. With help from Mckinney, the group is hoping to get more funding for future events and endeavors, as the member fee is a small contribution of $10. Brown is hoping for enough to create a mural on the asphalt section of the garden, have planter boxes and a worm composting bin.

Valentino Constantinou, rising senior in quantitative economics, said he first joined because he has a "passion and love for gardening," but then began to see the group's main objective.

"In the beginning it was because of my love of gardening," Constantinou said. "Now it's more of a sustainable economics approach. As an economist I see a lot of what goes on in the market, especially for food, but it's not only good for the environment to farm yourself and grow your own vegetables.

"It's good for your own pocket, but not only that, it helps weed society off of being completely dependent on our current food producers."

In addition to new features to the garden, Brown said he hopes there is a prospect of a paid internship position at around 10 hours of work a week that can carry the basic responsibility of the garden itself.

"It's almost like a full time job," Brown said of maintaining the garden. "There's a lot of things that need to be worked out and a lot of delegating to go on since we can't be here 24/7."

During the summer, students can join the organization for a fee of $10. Members will have the opportunity to maintain the garden and have access to the fresh fruits and vegetables grown there. The membership fee will rise come fall semester to an undecided amount, Brown said.

"I hope [new members] learn a lot and get really involved," Brown said. "If they can't come work that's fine, but I hope they come out enough so that they benefit from the organization. I would hate to see all the food go to waste."
Brown said that many students can benefit from being involved with Project V.E.G.G.I.E., even though it may be more convenient for upperclassmen.

"We know that there aren't many amenities for cooking in the dorms, but for instance, summer squash, you can throw that into pan and have it cooked in three minutes," Brown said. "Dining doesn't offer the most tasteful options and if you try and go off campus and buy your own groceries it can get really expensive really fast.

"Even if we were where we wanted to be, maxed-out working, freshman wouldn't get the most benefit, but the people who would get the most benefit would be those who have access to kitchens."

Ultimately, Constantinou said that his love for gardening has only broadened since joining Project V.E.G.G.I.E.

"My favorite part about Project V.E.G.G.I.E. is not only coming here to connect with the earth, it's kind of humbling, but the other aspect for me is just meeting with people and working and becoming closer to them," Constantinou said. "We really encourage everyone to come out here and get their hands dirty, and everyone gets to take a little home at the end of the day."

Project V.E.G.G.I.E. is always accepting new members and volunteers. You can like their page on Facebook at Project VEGGIE at www.facebook.com/ProjectVeggie.