UM offers garden to students, community

Holly Pless loads a wheelbarrow as William Randle and Annie Chester chat on the site of the Montevallo garden. (Reporter Photo/Jon Goering)

By CHRISTINE BOATWRIGHT / Staff Writer

MONTEVALLO – The University of Montevallo’s Environmental Club members are tired of living off cereal and junk food. They have decided that fresh is better.

Dr. Jill Wicknick, a biology professor with the university, began the club with the community in mind.

“We started this two years ago, and what we wanted to do was start a community garden where we could have plots that would be available to people in the community who wanted to rent them,” Wicknick said.

“We rent the plots for $5 for students and $10 for community members, and that’s for a year, she said. “The growing season is from March through November when the harvest is going on.”

The 6-foot by 9-foot plots are available to community members, but the club reserves and maintains two large plots for a special purpose.

“We’re also marking off two big plots that we’ll take the harvest to the Shelby Emergency Assistance in Montevallo so they can have fresh food,” Wicknick said. “They have a lot of canned food there, and they have mentioned they’d like to have some fresh food. We’ve decided to designate some big plots and donate some food to them.”

Students Holly Pless and Annie Chester, both members of the club, know how much work is involved to grow a successful garden.

“It’s just what I do. I love to grow, and that’s just my favorite thing to do,” Pless said. “It’s a good cause, and it’s just who I am.”

Chester is excited to see a growth in participation.

“Last year was our first year to actually start renting the plots,” Chester said, “so we’re still growing. We’ve had a really impressive response this year.”

Chester didn’t have much gardening experience before joining the Environmental Club.

“I’d never grown anything before, but Holly’s been teaching me to grow things,” she said. “I loved trying all of the different kinds of lettuces. I was amazed that there were so many different tastes — peanutty lettuces and spicy lettuce. And the tomato too, I may never be able to buy the supermarket tomatoes again, because they’re just so different.”

Pless said some vegetables are easy and quick to grow, and therefore encourages beginners to plant these varieties.

“Lettuce is always a great start. We see results quick on those,” she said. “Tomatoes are pretty good. The peppers grow great out here. I don’t know what’s in that soil, but peppers love it.”

William Randale, a member of the Environmental Club, said he enjoys reaping the benefits of growing his own produce.

“Being a gardener, you have first dibs on the food, besides the rabbits,” he said, grinning. “I love eating sweet corn right off the cob where you don’t have to boil it.”

Chester said both her finances and her health benefit from the community garden.

“I get food and don’t have to pay for it,” Chester said. “I pay for my plot, and then I’m set with vegetables for the semester. It makes it a lot cheaper to eat.

“And I’m learning new ways to eat,” she added. “I pretty much live off of cereal, and so this is expanding my horizons and making me a healthier person over all.”