The Community Garden: Helping to Build a Greener Campus

Matthew Peyton, ISJ student intern, joined the Living Lab Community Garden volunteers and the University Grounds Team for the first outdoor session!

Last week I was invited to take part in a practical activity for the new Community Gardens project set up between the Living Lab and York St John University’s Grounds Team.  

 University Grounds team members Martin Ammann and Naomi Blyth-Kubota were joined by student volunteers to construct a wooden planter that would eventually be placed on campus. Building something from scratch left myself and community garden volunteer Jo with a sense of satisfaction. It was a unique introduction to a collaborative experience of working together and recognising the importance of the Community Garden. 

What is the Community Garden? 

The Community Garden has been brought into new light through the Living Lab project. Before, the Community Garden struggled to get much attention. It was hidden on campus and was inaccessible for some students. However, with the help of the Living Lab and student volunteers the Garden is steadily being moved to a new location, that is more visible and accessible for all students. This is something that the Community Garden is all about, making a change on campus by engaging with students and giving them opportunity to help build a garden that can help everyone at York St John. This would allow students to grow and maintain their own food, whilst also teaching them important skills in teamwork and construction.

Martin, a gardener for the Grounds that helped create the Community Garden talked about his motivations behind creating the garden, explaining that “Since learning about the climate and ecological crises, I have been longing to be a part of the change that is so desperately necessary. The problems we face are global and it is easy to lose hope.” By having students come together there is also the hope that this would allow students to learn different skills in teamwork and construction, but also teach them the importance of creating a community. Martin also expressed the idea that “if people re-connected with each other and learned how to depend less on our fragile, market-based food systems, so much good could come from it.” 


The Student Perspective 

When I was invited to the project, I was not sure what exactly to expect. However, when I finally got involved with constructing the planter I realised how and why this project is so important. A project like this only succeeds best with people solely dedicated to it. This was something I only recognised as we finished building the planter. What started off as uncertainty about what we needed to do, was replaced with a dedication to finish our construction so that we could see our hard work come to fruition. 

It was evident as well that the students, volunteers, and the Grounds team all have this same passion and dedication for the project. When talking with Martin, Naomi, and the other volunteers about how the Garden could be used in everyday university life we talked about how the Community Garden is a flexible, inclusive space which means that it could be used by different courses in unique and creative ways. For example, art or theatre courses could create pieces of work based on the Garden. Whilst other student volunteers explained how they had gotten involved with the project as part of their course or as part of their research, such as Hayden who became involved with the project to help bring it back to life. This in turn has led to their work and research being influenced by the Community Garden.  

When I asked why the Garden was so important to them, Hayden explained that “To me, the garden provides a great example to students and locals of how we can bring nature back into our lives and learn to enjoy health food in creative ways. It is a great project. and I love seeing how it brings students and staff together as one community on campus.” Having students leading the progress and changes within the Garden has inspired a dedication to work together and help create something that can make a difference on campus.  


What seemed like simple a construction of a planter evolved into a rewarding experience, not just from creating something from scratch that could be used to help the university, but it came from the experience of learning something new that in turn allowed me to look at what I was doing. When thinking about the Community Garden afterwards I began to think about where this could go and what could be done next. It was then I realised that much like when we were constructing the planter, bit by bit we began to see it all come together, the same must be said for the Community Garden. Whilst it may be made up of repurposed wood the blueprint for how we can work together to create this Community Garden is engraved on the experience gained from building the planter. To end on one final quote from Martin, “I am hoping that we can come together and share skills, too. From growing veg, to joinery, conservation, arts & crafts, cooking, music… It could be a laugh!”