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Greenhouse gives students the gift of green

This spring, the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources will host its annual spring plant sale. The sale takes place at the Berea College Gardens and Greenhouse on Saturday, April 17 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The annual plant sale.

The plants for this fundraiser were provided through Berea’s Greenhouse and Gardens for both students and the general public. Many varieties of organic “first harvest plants" will be offered: Chinese cabbage, Russian kale, broccoli, kohlrabi and several different varieties of lettuce greens. Many of the student varieties available at the Greenhouse and Gardens plant sale were sown from seed by Berea’s student workers, and can also be found biweekly at the local farmer’s market located on College Square.

As new selections of fresh locally grown greens, organic berries and aromatic herbs begin to sprout, the Greenhouse will continue to feature a wide variety of vegetables and other bedding plants. The Greenhouse has been providing this service to Berea residents and visitors since the first garden was established on campus in 1871.

The Greenhouse and Gardens holds plant sales in the spring and fall of each academic year. Last fall’s plant sale featured indoor plants for students’ dorm rooms. There was also a plant sale held for the general public.

At the student plant sale, the options included many household plant varieties such as spider, jade, jasmine, peace lily, fresh herbs and mother-in-law’s tongue, all grown and sold by Berea’s student farmers. The students’ most popular pick was the aloe.

Janet Meyer, a Berea alumna, fondly remembered when one student told her, “It just makes me feel better to have plants.” Meyer explained that many of the students enjoy the seasonal plant sales because it gives them something to remind them of home.

Many of the students did not know what kinds of plants were there so they picked plants that they were more familiar with, or plants that reminded them of home. Meyer, who helped the student workers put on the plant sale, shared how nice it felt to overhear one student picking a plant because it reminded him of something his dad grew, even though he didn’t know the name of the plant.

Some students had many questions about how to take care of their newly purchased plants. The student workers who were new to the Greenhouse were taught about all of the varieties before the sale so that they could advise the other students on how to care for their plants.

The Greenhouse was designed to teach and employ Berea students about sustainable horticulture. The program also provides a rich and diverse learning environment for students to gain hands-on experience managing a business.

According to Meyer, most of the plants sold in the fundraisers are grown locally. The Greenhouse and Gardens, which has used organic growing practices since 1998, operates as a training center for students to learn how to grow plants that meet the standards for organic certification.

There are also a few plants that are donated to the Greenhouse for the sale or grown from donated clippings. Meyer joked that the Greenhouse had become “kind of a humane society for plants.”

As Meyer ran her fingers through the crispy, brown mulch at the bottom of one of the flower pots to show the dark compost, she shared that the students work in a very labor intensive process to mix hundreds of pounds of food waste collected from the Berea College Cafeteria with leaves and straw to build the compost. The compost is sifted occasionally and mixed to rebuild the soil nutrients before using the composted soil. Meyer shared that the beautifully rich and dark soil in the bottom of the begonia pot was actually the composted soil used to fertilize Berea College’s locally grown, certified organic plants.

Throughout the year the Greenhouse and Gardens also sells a variety of organically grown bushes, fruit trees and native trees from the Appalachian region that are grown and cultivated in the Greenhouse on campus.

Meyer, who came to Berea as a nontraditional student with three children, graduated in December 2004 with a degree in Agriculture and Natural Resources. She is now working on her master’s thesis in the plant and soil sciences.

For more information about how to get your own plant, appointments can be made by calling the Office of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Berea College at 859-985-3947.

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