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UCO students cultivate a rooftop garden

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Carissa Jetto, a student at UCO, and Tim Tillman , UCO's sustainability coordinator, look over vegitable gardens in kiddy pools growing on a relitivly unused balcony area  at the school's Nigh University Center.  mh
  • Carissa Jetto, a student at UCO, and Tim Tillman , UCO's sustainability coordinator, look over vegitable gardens in kiddy pools growing on a relitivly unused balcony area at the school's Nigh University Center. mh

Carissa Jetto, a dietetics and food management student at University of Central Oklahoma (UCO), explored the idea of building a community garden last year. Since spring, Broncho Urban Gardens (BUGS) has established 17 swimming pool herb and vegetable gardens that sit atop the balconies of Nigh University Center at UCO.

When Jetto began looking for a school to participate in her project, she connected with Eric Hemphill, a volunteer coordinator at UCO’s Central Pantry, which provides free groceries to university faculty and enrolled students. With Jetto’s idea, Hemphill saw an opportunity to grow food for the pantry and provide UCO’s students and faculty with fresh options.

However, Jetto’s original intent was to measure water use.

Jetto had watched a kiddie pool gardening method on YouTube while searching for a growing system that could be elevated. The unorthodox method called for soil and seeds to be placed in reusable fabric “grow bags” clustered into plastic pools.

“It is said that this system uses less water, no weeding and you can grow more vegetables per square inch,” Jetto said.

The scientific and curious endeavors spawned an urban garden as they also brought people together.

“We found a greater sense of community with students and staff,” Tim Tillman, Central’s sustainability coordinator, said. “While student engagement has been slow since it’s summer, we had a number of students help with physically building and planting the beds this past semester, and I expect we will ramp back up during the fall.”

Beyond providing food with fresh and healthy vegetables, Tillman said there are many other opportunities to gain from this experience.

“There are teaching opportunities for budding gardeners, stress reduction and community engagement,” he said. “People are also not bound to being indoors all the time, and they receive the benefits of being active outside.”

What has surprised many people involved with BUGS is how many tools and resources are available to grow a garden.

“There are a number of resources available locally for anyone interested in urban gardening, including SixTwelve in the Paseo, Master Gardeners Association and our own program,” Tillman said.

Last year, the UCO-YMCA Community Garden Initiative netted 1,400 pounds of food, and it is expected that BUGS will reach that number with much less weeding, said Tillman. More importantly, the goal is to continue to build community support while providing healthy food options.

People involved with BUGS see an opportunity to spread the concept of this style of gardening to other communities as well.

“It is a simple, very low-cost alternative to a traditional raised bed and can survive almost anywhere. So why wouldn’t communities want to try it?” Tillman said.

Visit uco.edu for more information on Central Pantry and BUGS.

Print headline: Urban treat, A new community growing method at the University of Central Oklahoma nets more fresh food for students and faculty.

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