Inspired by gardens she visited in Scotland, Sammi Jones, an environmental, soil and water sciences major in Bumpers College, wants to see a community garden grow at the U of A. In November she’s defending her thesis, which documents best practices for campus community gardens based on a survey of 86 universities with community gardens and visits to six of them. Now, under the leadership of Sammi’s faculty mentor Curt Rom, the university is moving forward with selecting a site for the garden. The Honors College supported Sammi’s research with two Honors College research grants. Sammi has also just returned from Hawaii, where she was able to present her findings at the American Society of Horticultural Science conference thanks in part to an Honors College research travel grant. Below, Sammi shares her thoughts on community gardening, food security, and what’s in store for the future. 

Question: When did you first become interested in community gardens?

Answer: I studied abroad in Scotland for my junior year and I was living in Edinburgh. I came across this large garden area, and I thought—What is this!? It was just this big plot with all these little gardens and I found out it was an allotment garden. I thought—Oh my gosh, why don’t we have this in the United States? I just became more and more interested in community gardening and contacted Dr. Rom. He was teaching a class about community gardens and said that he might have a future project for me to do.

Question: What do you hope to accomplish by creating a community garden at the University of Arkansas?

Answer: I’d like to see a diversity of students from all different majors being able to come together in an area and work towards a common goal. What I envision for the garden is to both provide food for students and for the Full Circle campus food pantry here on campus. There are not a lot of opportunities for students from different majors to get to know each other and a community garden is a great place for that. It is really important for students and just people in general to get more connected with their food – where their food comes from and how to produce that food.

Question: What was the most amazing community garden that you visited?

Answer: I loved Washington University in St. Louis. Their garden was awesome. What I really liked about the garden is that they had a program in place in the summer where they would, for a two-week period, have a camp for middle-school-aged kids from all across St. Louis. The kids come in daily and visit with people from around the community, like farmers and chefs. They get the kids in the garden and learning how to cook food from the garden. There are three or four students supported by Wash U. to stay over the summer and be counselors.

Question: If you were to visit the U of A in ten years, what would you hope to see when returning to the site of the community garden?

Answer: I would like to come back and see it in full bloom with butterflies flying around and hopefully not weeds everywhere—but I would understand if there were. It would be awesome to see some sort of curriculum tied to the garden—whether that is in horticulture, environmental science, landscape architecture, or even the social sciences. I would like to see it be a used space. Even if people aren’t working in the garden; that there is a bench or a picnic table so that people can go and relax and just be close to plants, because I know that that is important to me. In between classes I like to go sit in the courtyard between the plant sciences and agriculture buildings because it is around plants and it is just nice to breathe for a minute.

Question: What’s next for you?

Answer: I graduate in December and I would like to go study in Scotland. I’ve applied for a Fulbright to do my master of science in food security at the Scottish Agricultural College in Edinburgh.

Participants in the Belize community development program offer a lesson on gardening to a classroom.

A food secure area is where people have access to healthy foods and people are able to use those foods. There are a lot of places in Arkansas that are food insecure. They may not have access to a grocery store—they might just have access to convenience stores and no true access to real, healthy food. Not only can I look at these issues at an international level, but also for electives I can take a wide range of classes in education and working with school gardens. I am really interested in food and people and the environment and how all of those work together. It sounds like a dream.

Participants in the Belize community development program work on a new garden for a school.

I also hope to work in developing nations on education and food security issues. I worked in Belize for a bit. I went with the Community Development trip through the UA. We helped to establish a small school garden for a local primary school and we did some lessons pertaining to gardening. I would like to continue something like that but go work for an extended amount of time, like a year or two.