Climbing trees, throwing darts, catching bugs, and swinging in hammocks are not the things that usually come to mind when people think of Grand Valley State University.
But for students working on the âfarm,â GVSU’s sustainable agriculture project, these activities are part of their average Friday.
Inside one of the SAPThe two hoop houses of unheated greenhouses that rely entirely on the sun for their energy, Dana Eardley used a large garden hose to soak up several recently seeded flower beds.
âGerminating seeds need more water than seedlings,â said Eardley, a member of the GVSU Farm Club. âIt really varies between transplant and direct seed. “
Inside the germination box – a heavily insulated cupboard – newly planted seeds are placed to grow. From there the shoots are transferred to the greenhouse where they develop into seedlings.
The farm offers volunteer hours between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Fridays, which are not limited to Farm Club members or students involved in sustainability or agriculture classes.
âWe are very welcoming,â said Youssef Darwich, President of the Farm Club. ” Everybody is welcome here. “
Last week between 10 and 15 students arrived to go out, have fun and do typical farm work, with a few more coming and going as they please.
Some transplanted seedlings from the greenhouse into the hoop beds. Hoop houses, which act as living refrigerators, extend the growing season so that plants can be grown almost all year round. SAP.
âIt’s all about energy efficiency here,â said Darwish.
Darwish spent most of the time creating a rain barrel system by drilling holes in large plastic barrels, putting a rubber gasket in the holes, and then connecting the barrels with a PVC pipe through the holes. Seven barrels were installed on Friday, with plans to install more in the future.
“We’re going to get away from the pipes eventually,” said Levi Gardner, director of the SAP. Together the barrels can hold approximately 500 gallons of water from the roof of the Wesley House via the gutter system.
When the students got to the farm, they headed to Eardley, Darwish or Gardner to get their homework. In addition to building the rain barrel system, this weekend’s projects included: double digging, a specific way to prepare the soil for plant growth; weed the spinach beds; and beautify the exterior of the Wesley House by removing weeds and planting various types of greenery.
Double digging is a process that creates “macropores” or openings in the soil to allow free drainage of water and air through it, making it easier for plants to dig. grow roots in looser soil. Sod, or top layer of soil containing grass and other plants, is removed from an area of ââa few square feet and placed in a wheelbarrow, which is the first round of digging. Then the layer of clay under the sod is broken with forks into small pieces – the second round of digging. The sod for the next area is then placed over the exposed clay, and the process continues until the entire bed is plowed and raked smoothly.
âYou have to keep the topsoil separate,â Darwich said. “It has all the nutrients.”
Trisha Williams, a volunteer who was there for the first time as part of a service learning project, brought her son to the farm. Williams, along with several other students, shared a less arduous task: weeding the beds of spinach, lettuce and chard.
Hannah Fernando, a Farm Club member, said weeding flower beds is routine. â(We weed) every day,â Fernanado said.
This year, the farm’s major projects include finishing the herb garden currently underway in front of the Wesley House and watering it with the rain barrels, as well as creating a permanent walkway and border around the community garden located behind the house. Plans are also underway to find businesses such as Countryside Greenhouse, Home Depot and Lowes to donate to the farm, as well as to have a series of workshops next year which is LIB 100 approved.
Potential workshop topics include how to create a garden, beekeeping, tree planting, natural pest control, canning and yeast making. The club plans to bring in teachers to lead workshops, as well as some of them themselves.
For more information on the Sustainable Agriculture Project, visit www.gvsu.edu/sustainableagproject.