Going green, growing local

"We were looking to create a third space, where people could come together: students, professors and community members. Everyone could come to this place and have a reason to be there." Britney Bockstahler, UNI student, co-creator and summer coordinator of UNI's Panther Plot.

Panther Plot
UNI students began planting at the Panther Plot on May 8 - the group will host a produce stand the first week of fall term.

The Panther Plot is a student-run, sustainable, on-campus garden. What will soon be a thriving grove of veggies, herbs and wild flowers on the edge of campus was once just a seed, planted in the hearts and minds of nine ambitious sophomores.

In September 2012, the nine presidential-learning scholars set forth on their yearlong service-learning project, a requirement of their scholarship. Looking for a need in the local community, they noticed it didn't have a source of fresh, homegrown produce. Working with various departments around the university -- the Center for Energy & Environmental Education (CEEE), UNI Office of Sustainability, Botanical Center, Department of Residence Dining Services, Facilities Services and faculty in the first-year Cornerstone course -- the students were able to grow support for the garden. On Thursday, April 11, 2013, students and members from the supporting departments gathered behind the UNI Biology Research Complex to break ground on what would, from then on, be the Panther Plot.

On Wednesday, May 8, students and faculty planted the first crop that the garden will yield. "It is so incredible," said Bockstahler. "Back in September it was one of those big dreams. This is a really big project and it was a really small timeline to accomplish such a big thing within the university."

To run the Panther Plot, the group utilized an existing student organization on campus. Green Project UNI was revamped to meet the needs of the budding garden. Members of the founding group, including Bockstahler, formed a leadership team, but next year, those members will be replaced by new students looking to further the group's goals. Bockstahler hopes the Panther Plot, as well as Green Project UNI, will continue to grow, eventually establishing new gardens around campus and reaching out to form new sustainability-focused programs. "Our hope is that we can come back here with our own kids and show it to them someday."

Bockstahler said Green Project UNI has the garden on a three-year timeline. In the coming years they hope to create a walkthrough path in the Panther Plot. Signposts will be placed along the path that detail the history of local foods at UNI. The group also hopes they will be able to increase the garden's presence in UNI Dining Services. Bockstahler said right now, the garden just doesn't have the production capacity to service UNI Dining. Ultimately, the group hopes the garden will reach a point of self-sustainability and no longer require funding from the university.

Beginning the first week of the 2013 fall term, Green Project UNI will host the Panther Plot Produce Stand where produce from the garden will be sold to students, faculty and the Cedar Falls community. All profits will return to the Panther Plot in order to by seeds, equipment and other materials, helping to reach the garden's goal of sustainability. "However," said Bockstahler, "we expect to only sell a portion of our produce; the rest will be donated to the Northeast Iowa Food Bank and Food Corps." Any remaining produce will be sold to UNI Dining.

Throughout the summer and going into the fall, the garden will have open volunteer hours on Tuesdays, from 6 to 8 p.m., and Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to noon.

On Thursday, Sept. 12, Green Project UNI will host a harvest festival. Food from the garden will be served, and tours of the garden will be given.

To learn more about the Panther Plot, visit sites.google.com/site/thepantherplot.