At the beginning of the Spring 2023 semester, students in the University of Arizona Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Built Environments and Minor in Sustainable Built Environments programs joined together at the UArizona Community Garden to grow fruits, vegetables and other plants while cultivating their own community.
The idea was seeded by Nataliya Apanovich, lecturer in sustainable built environments, who reserved three garden plots for students after learning of their desire for more hands-on opportunities outside of class. The space is especially important for first-year students, allowing them to make new connections, while all participating students are able to learn about sustainable gardening practices as they connect with plants and soil and spend time outdoors.
Gene King ’27 B Arch and Vanessa Vance ’26 BS SBE at work in a community garden plot. Photo by Ashley Limbaugh.
Apanovich has also brought in guest speakers and industry professionals, who join the students in the community garden to discuss local sustainability, garden and refuge initiatives.
Ashley Limbaugh, a first-year Bachelor of Landscape Architecture student minoring in Sustainable Built Environments, looks forward to her Thursday afternoons in the community garden. “Dr. Apanovich brings us snacks and drinks to enjoy while working in the garden,” she says. “We open the shed, grab our shovels and gloves and get to work on cultivating!”
Photo by Ashley Limbaugh.
When they first joined the community garden, the students removed dead and unwanted plants from previous growing seasons and cleared out the soil. Guided by Apanovich, they then picked out a variety of edible, native and decorative plant species and arranged them to reduce pests and ensure different parts of the soil were shaded.
“Every day there are weeds to be pulled, growth to be celebrated and stories to be told,” says Limbaugh. “It is a relaxing space to connect with nature and like-minded people. It is wonderful to learn how to grow food in a desert, which I find very valuable and relevant as the population of Arizona is growing. Dr. Apanovich is extremely knowledgeable about sustainable agriculture, and I learn something new every day about plants and the desert despite having lived in Arizona my whole life.”
At work in the UArizona Community Garden. Photo by Ashley Limbaugh.
“It’s been a great way for me to meet classmates I would otherwise only see for 50 minutes a week in class,” says Linus Friedman ’26 BS SBE. “I’ve always loved working outside in gardens since it’s a really great way to de-stress. The community aspect is also exciting for me, as I believe building community is key to creating a strong town, city or campus that works for everyone.”
Danny Donohoe ’26 BS SBE also pitches in to support community: “I come to the garden because of the opportunity it provides me to give back to my community, while also learning about the biodiversity of Tucson at a hands-on level. A lot of my childhood was spent volunteering to help care for special needs children with my mother, and so helping and empathy are habitual for me. But after leaving New Jersey to come to school in Tucson, I did not have a place where I could help—until I heard about the community garden. Not only does this experience allow me to lend a hand, it also gives me the opportunity to learn. Volunteering at the community garden and spending my time working to make it as lively as possible with the amazing Dr. Apanovich, who takes time out of her week to garden with her students, has made a real difference.”
Photo by Ashley Limbaugh.
“When I first heard about the UArizona Community Garden, I was ecstatic,” says first-year Bachelor of Architecture student Gene King. “I already understood the importance of harvesting local food and how much of an impact gardening can have on one’s mental health. But by going to the community garden every Thursday, I’m able to get away from my schoolwork, connect with fellow students and community members alike and have a positive impact on the environment, regardless of how small it may be. I also really enjoy having the opportunity to share my own knowledge about gardening that I have accumulated over the years, while also learning from others with different perspectives and expertise. Collective spaces such as community gardens excel at bringing people together from all walks of life. Yet I still find it amazing how, each week, we’re all brought together under a singular, shared passion for gardening.”
For first-year BS SBE student Vanessa Vance, the community garden gatherings have helped her find her comfort zone at UArizona. “I’ve been fortunate to grow up in a place where I have easy access to natural areas. Whether it’s the mountains or the beach, I feel like nature brings out the best version of myself,” she says. “I have had social anxiety for as long as I can remember, and finding my group has always been a challenge for me. However, I look forward to coming to the community garden on Thursdays. It is easier to connect with those who come to the garden because it is always a small group, and the same people tend to come every week. It’s a great way to take a break from the stress of college coursework, spend time outside and get to know others with similar interests. I’m grateful to have this weekly activity that allows me to be outside where I’m my true self. It really has done so much for my physical and mental health.”
Vanessa Vance '26 BS SBE tends the SBE plots at the UArizona Community Garden. Photo by Ashley Limbaugh.
The students’ adoption of UArizona Community Garden plots has proven to be an outstanding way for students to get more involved in their community, spend time outside and connect with peers and faculty. Gaining hands-on experience has also helped students learn more about sustainable farming while providing them with an outlet of the many stresses of college life. Though the community garden’s spaces are small, their impact is big. The garden has touched the lives of not only SBE students, but also many others from the UArizona community. No doubt it will continue to impact the lives of the students as they, and the garden, continue to grow.