There’s life on Latin Way Rd.
Lying between Harleston Hall and Latin Way, the bustling movements of students traveling to and from their dormitories is interrupted by a fenced plot of plants, bright-colored vegetables and tall, leafy produce. This is Tufts University’s student-run garden, tended by the members of the Tufts Garden Club.
Since the group began in 2010, theTufts Garden Club has been a means for students to engage in an activity that they usually have to leave behind when they come to college or gain first-time experience with something new.
“I've seen quite a few people who [have said] ‘It's nice to have this garden because I miss my mother's garden in Vermont … I've heard lovely stories of people who have actual farms,” Bayley Koopman, president of the Garden Club, said.
The club can also be students' first exposure to gardening.
“There [are] plenty of people who have lived in the city and this is their first taste of gardening, and [the club] is an extremely low-stress environment to learn how to [do it],” Koopman said.
The Garden Club is self-sustaining, and student members control all operations of the garden.
“We build all of the beds ourselves, and we grow everything from seed, and we harvest everything ourselves,” Koopman said.
In response to increased interest in the club in recent semesters, the garden plot expanded its size by 500 square feet. Construction leader Aaron Apostadero, a sophomore, leads the group’s building projects; the newest additions are two plant beds and a wooden bench for students to sit on while in the garden.
The club offers students the opportunity to get their hands dirty and learn how to garden.
“[Gardening] events are usually on Saturday mornings, and they can vary based on the project, but usually they involve spending time outdoors, weeding, getting into the soil, getting dirty,” Koopman said. "Sometimes there’s construction stuff.”
The Garden Club also gives students a chance to tend to their wellbeing.
“I've been told by a fair amount of people that they really enjoy coming to Saturday morning events to start the weekend off right," Lily Mikolajczak, one of the club’s two social media coordinators, said. "People like being in the fresh air, and weeding and doing that kind of stuff can be kind of therapeutic."
Sarah Goldstein, another social media coordinator, felt very similarly in that the garden offers an escape from the busy schedule of college.
“Especially in such a high-stress environment like a college or university where people are constantly on the academic grind, I think having an outdoor space to decompress, relax and hold things and feel their power is really important on campus,” Goldstein said.
Another type of event the Garden Club activity offers does not include soil or shovels at all. Members are treated to weekly tea swaps in East Hall, where they can exchange tea they dislike for new flavors. According to Mikolajczak, these events play a powerful role in fostering a sense of community and camaraderie amongst the student gardeners.
Mikolajczak also highlighted the role the Garden Club played in facilitating connections among students in the 2020–21 school year, when COVID-19 safety restrictions limited contact with others.
“I think it was really nice to have Garden Club events during COVID. Last year there was a tulip planting [event for the] Africana Center, and tea-making using the leaves in the garden — that was really nice,” Mikolajczak said. “I know some clubs had a really hard time during the pandemic last year … but I feel like Garden Club did a good job of doing what we could."
When the garden is in season, some of the produce grown by the Garden Club is given to Carmichael Dining Hall. Once the season changes and the garden is prepared for the winter, the club transitions into other “homestead” activities, Koopman explained, including guest speakers and sourdough starter giveaways.
The Garden Club has partnered with other groups in gardening-related efforts, including a project with biology professor Colin Orians to renew the Tisch Library rooftop greenery.
“We got a few students and Dr. Orians, and we basically revitalized the garden, planted new things and kind of [livened] it [up],” Koopman said.
The club also joined forces with the Eco Reps to build an eco-brick planter. The planter they created now serves as a pot for a white mulberry tree.
“Eco brick is basically taking a water bottle, and instead of recycling, you fill it with thin filmy plastics that normally can't be recycled would go in the trash, and you fill it until the "brick" — the water bottle — becomes rock hard and you can use it as a brick in building structures,” Koopman said.
The e-board has several plans and projects in the works for the school year ahead.
“I was talking to some people at HCAT, the humanist group on campus, and there is a kind of an empty space near the Interfaith Center," Mikolajczak said. "They want to make a garden [and] partner with us."
The club also plans to coordinate with engineering students to design an on-campus compost bin.
“[By keeping it on campus], students can distribute their compost there rather than sending it off where we'll never see what happens to it,” Koopman said. “This way we can use it as an educational tool to understand how things get composted, and we would love to use the compost in the garden to kind of come full circle in this process of sustainability.”
For Apostadero, ambitions for this year include addressing stigmas around gardening and expanding the club’s membership.
“A personal goal of mine for this club is to kind of decentralize the idea that gardening is not a male thing, it's not a masculine thing — that's something I grew up with personally,” Apostadero said. “I want to help destroy that by integrat[ing] more diversity among genders, among race, [and] say that gardening is fun and everybody should do it.”
According to its leaders, the Garden Club is defined by flexibility.
“The great thing about gardening is that it's super low commitment —you take what you get from it, essentially,” Goldstein said.
Koopman again emphasized that the club is not just dominated by green thumbs.
“This is a club for people of all experiences. I'm president now … but when I started freshman year, I had no gardening experience. I learned everything from this club,” Koopman said. “We're really open to all experience levels, and we just kind of want to foster a sense of community here. Just teach and learn as we go.”