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Learning Garden

As of summer 2015, a 'Learning Garden' to be located on campus is in early stages of development. The goals of the Learning Garden are to educate students - at Swarthmore College and hopefully also in the local public school systems - on small-scale food growing techniques; to engage campus in conversations about food justice; and to demonstrate a living example of inclusive food production & community development.

The 3 Learning Garden Components

  1. Demonstration Garden - 

More than half of the Learning Garden's space will be dedicated to showing how food grows. Crops that will be ready in early spring and between late summer and winter (when students are present) are preferred. These include: members of the brassica family such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower; fall and winter squashes; members of the allium family, such as leeks, bunching onions, and garlic; carrots and beets; and radishes. Flowering plants attractive to native pollinators as well as cover crops (when needed) will also be planted.

  1. Edible Outdoor Classroom -

Several food plots will be devoted to experimental, edible growing spaces. Such spaces may be used by entire classes or by individual students in the midst of research. The Learning Garden will also include a large space to be reserved for class sessions.

  1. Community Engagement Initiatives - 

The Learning Garden will host several initiatives to engage the College's neighbors and partners. Produce from the Demonstration Garden that is not used for campus programming will be donated to nearby food pantries, such as the Ridley Park United Methodist Church Food Pantry or the Loaves and Fish Food Pantry in Prospect Park. During the summer, programming will continue to serve groups on campus, such as participants in the Chester Children’s Chorus and the Science for Kids program. The Learning Garden staff also hope to partner with other area institutions during the academic year, such as the Delaware County Library System and The Ruth Bennett Community Farm.


Steering Committee Members

As of Summer 2015:

Betsy Bolton, Chair of Environmental Studies Program
Melissa Tier, Sustainability Coordinator​
Jennifer James, Scott Arboretum Education Intern
Olivia Ortiz '16, Sustainability Intern

Community Discussion Event

Thank you all for joining us at the Learning Garden Charrette!

Lisa DePiano, a permaculture expert, led members of the student body, faculty, and staff in discussions of potential ideas for an expanded food-based learning garden on campus. Among the ideas explored at the meeting were the transition from the short-term target of revitalizing the Good Food Project to the long-term goal of developing a campus farm; the possibility of contributing to existing edible food tours led by Grounds staff; opportunities to connect student wellness with outdoor spaces and activities such as gardening or walking/sitting in a garden; and the development of an inclusive space whose design & maintenance could be shared by students, Scott Arboretum volunteers, and many other community members.


We also brainstormed the strengths and weaknesses of, the opportunities provided by, and the threats to the development of an educational garden space. Please see here for the full list [pdf].

Outstanding Questions

Q: Where will the Learning Garden be located?

A: At the site of the temporary road between Wharton & Danawell (two residential halls).

Q: How will the Learning Garden be staffed? 

A: The tentative staffing is as follows: during its first year of existence, the Learning Garden will be managed by a student Garden Intern under the joint supervision of the Environmental Studies program, the Office of Sustainability, and the Scott Arboretum. The Garden Intern will be funded through the summer following this academic year. Subsequently, as the Garden expands, an experienced Learning Gardener will be hired.

Q: How will the Learning Garden be funded? 

A: Funds for the creation of the Learning Garden will come from a variety of campus sources that are still being determined.

Q: What steps will be taken to ensure that inclusivity and diversity are positively represented in this project? 

A: Discussions have begun with the Intercultural Center (IC) to identify IC student interns who will serve as liaisons for this and other sustainability-themed projects. In addition, collaboration with a wide range of student groups is seen as essential at this early stage. We hope that the upcoming community discussion event (see above) will also generate further ideas for creating a multicultural, multi-religious, and multi-abled space.