Ellen Vande Visse and Jeff Smeenk survey the student garden at the Matanuska Experiment Farm.
Learning and sharing are the byproducts of a vegetable garden at the Matanuska Experiment Farm.
For the second year, SNRAS Assistant Professor Jeff Smeenk and Ellen Vande Visse of the Good Earth Garden School have been working with students to grow food that is donated to local food banks. “That way people learn who’s hungry,” Vande Visse said.
Throughout the summer thirteen students have been immersed in market gardening philosophies and techniques. The course is part of a series of agriculture classes offered through the UAA Matanuska-Susitna College. Many of the students are home gardeners but this was their first exposure to production scale gardening. Some are very experienced and others are beginners, making it challenging to teach the class. “We have some very earnest students and some still formulating their plans,” Vande Visse said.
In the spring, local farms donated transplants for the garden and Smeenk contributed excess seed potatoes from his potato variety trials. Also grown were zucchini, salad greens, chard, celery, and beets.
“We are trying to show good gardening practices,” Smeenk said. One-third of the garden rests under cover crops while two-thirds is in production. This method helps build organic matter. Smeenk and Vande Visse used a mixture of seed for the cover crop, which has proven highly successful. The garden is organic, with the only fertilizer being fish. It is also supplemented with homemade compost, spoiled hay, and cow manure. “Talk about sustainable,” said Vande Visse. “Talk about recycling.”
“This helps meet the needs in the community,” Smeenk said. “We are always interested in helping people with horticulture and I’m interested in helping growers make the transition from gardeners to small-scale producers. And this project is a good way for UAA and UAF to collaborate.”
Vande Visse hopes the gardening project will continue. “This is a way to involve people in the fun of growing things and it gives the experiment farm some exposure,” she said.