On the way to class, students may soon pass an orchard lush with fresh fruit, ripe for the picking.
Conceived by Neil Brown, senior in chemical engineering, and UT alumnus Chris Weller, the Big Orange Orchard would establish a series of edible, self-sustaining gardens across campus; the entire Knoxville community would be welcome to munch. Tuesday, the Student Government Association Senate passed a resolution in unanimous support of this concept, placing the project under the jurisdiction of an SGA committee on environment and sustainability. Their next steps? Finalize the design, calculate a total budget and present the proposal to Facilities Services for final approval.
Also working to evaluate student support, landscape architecture students presented orchard design ideas for McClung Plaza and the green space beside it. While Brown and Weller will likely combine the designs along with their own ideas for the final presentation, Julianna Burchett, junior in environmental science, believes the project will help showcase UT's efforts to 'Make Orange Green.'
"UT has continuously said that they're pushing for sustainability," Burchett said. "It's such a sustainable campus, and yet we appear relatively barren of really sustainable projects compared to other campuses. Speaking from the aesthetic side, UT was named one of the ugliest campuses.
"If we do this, we won't be on the top 10 list of ugliest campuses. It'll make the campus a beautiful place to be."
If the orchard cannot be placed along main walkways in its first year, Brown and Weller plan to pursue other options, like space on the Agriculture Campus or near Project V.E.G.G.I.E.'s current garden next to the Andy Holt parking garage.
Ideally, the gardens will be designed, planted and cultivated solely through UT students and staff. Throughout the year, students will be welcome to participate in upkeep.
"I think in the past UT has really called upon outside developers and organizers to come in and make changes," Burchett said. "This project is internal to UT."
Brown estimates the undertaking will require three years of maintenance labor on two sites, amounting to $36,000 not including the salaries of maintenance employees.
"This is better than sustainable," Brown said. "It's regenerative, it's putting something there like it used to be before humans came and knocked it down."
The orchard is inspired by existing gardens at other universities, such as the University of Massachusetts- Amherst, where multiple gardens supply a significant amount of food to dining halls. Similar efforts are taking place at schools in Utah, Indiana and Canada.
Before and after the gardens are established, Neil and Weller believe students of every major can benefit from the Big Orange Orchard and the educational opportunities it would afford.
"One of the thing keeping us from Top 25 is retention rates," Brown said, "and I think this is something that will keep students here, because they can interact with this and learn from it just by default."