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How Our Garden Grows

RIC Environmental Club students René Breton and John Fulton

RIC Environmental Club students René Breton and John Fulton

It all started with a budding friendship.

The RIC campus garden, nestled at the Fruit Hill Avenue edge of campus, has been growing under the care of students John Fulton (nursing) and René Breton (M.S.W.), who first bonded over a shared passion for urban farming while volunteering in Maryland for the AmeriCorps national and community service program.

A couple of years after meeting, they both were undergraduates at RIC, actively involved on campus and interested in continuing their work to promote environmentally sound lifestyles.

Breton met RIC Sustainability Coordinator Jim Murphy at green practices lecture on campus in Spring 2012 and was encouraged by the college’s commitment to sustainability efforts.

“We started talking and decided to start the Environmental Club,” Breton said. “For me, the goal was to form a collaboration between students from different academic disciplines.”

Breton and Fulton were particularly interested in establishing a campus garden, based on the idea that there are many students whose studies involve food safety, community sustainability and healthy lifestyles.

“We want to do things that get people talking about (sustainability and sustainable food sources), and a community garden is way for people to get to know each other and converse,” Fulton said.

The Environmental Club opened the garden with a ribbon-cutting ceremony during RIC’s Earth Week festivities in Spring 2013.

In just a little over a year, the garden has blossomed as an educational and food resource. Anyone is welcome to visit and learn about local farming and many on campus have done so, Breton said.

“These students have done a tremendous job in maintaining the garden, as well as promoting it as an achievable means of locally-sourced, healthy food,” Murphy said. 

The students have regularly donated garden crops, including garlic stalks, green beans, Swiss chard, tomatoes and eggplant to RIC faculty and staff, as well as to neighbors and local soup kitchens. Herbs have gone to the Donovan Dining Center.

The garden also has become a source of enjoyment for its caretakers.

“There are a lot of therapeutic aspects to gardening. If I am having a bad day, I come here and get my hands in the dirt and I feel better,” Breton said.

Breton and Fulton are careful to mention that while their club’s focus has so far been on the garden, there is much more the club is doing and even more that can be done to promote sustainability practices among students on campus and within the community.

Last spring, RIC and the Environmental Club partnered with Mount Pleasant High School to grow vegetable seedlings in a project to promote healthy and affordable food.

The high school students used RIC’s greenhouse, with help from RIC students, to grow the seedlings. A Tisdale Environmental Award issued to Mount Pleasant High School funded the project.

Murphy, Breton and Fulton would like to see more students involved in the club. Participation, they said, is up to each student. Maintaining the garden during the school year takes a few hours per week among members, Breton said.

While the vision is for the club and the campus as a whole to permanently sustain the garden, ideas for other club initiatives are always welcome.

“There is a huge array of things the club can be,” Breton said. “It’s not about changing the world. It’s about taking the time to appreciate the process of what you’re doing.”

For more information about the Environmental Club, email President John Fulton at jfulton_2883@ric.edu.