Johnson House Garden, Oberlin College

Johnson House Garden Ready for Life

Johnson House Garden, Oberlin College

Oberlin’s Resource Conservation Team, Oberlin Garden Resource Outreach Workers, and Slow Food, in a combined effort, have just finished the Johnson House Garden’s recycled wooden framed raised beds and are in the process of installing deer fences to help extend the planting season, reduce weeds, reduce the need to use poor native soil, and protect the garden against deer this upcoming season.

This season the garden will have potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, herbs, a variety of winter greens, corn, squash, and melons. This summer’s produce will go to CDS, and the Fall’s will be split between CDS and OSCA.

The garden was begun in the Spring of 2010 when a group of five students grouped together to write a Green Edge Fund proposal, to provide students with hands on experience in their studies of food systems, and encourage teamwork and connections with the broader Oberlin community. The proposal stated the garden as being “a crucial component of the Oberlin College experience” as “students and faculty are concerned with the environmental, health, social and economic implications of the industrialized food system, and have expressed a strong desire for an alternative way to feed themselves.” The proposal stated no tangible outlet for expression of these interests.

Furthermore, the garden gained space in Section IV of the College’s Environmental Policy, stating the “’Oberlin College’s landscape, no less than its classrooms, laboratories, and other teaching facilities, is part of the educational apparatus of the institution.’

In 2011, management of the garden fell under the responsibility of the Resource Conservation Team, a group of students employed by the Department of Facilities. Currently several paid members of the RCT maintain the garden, and work with OGROW and Slow Food Oberlin to organize volunteers.

The two new additions are of a larger movement of expansion to the garden this year. Last Fall, the beds were re-oriented to run east-west for maximal sunlight, doubling the cultivated area. Five cold frames, or mini-greenhouse boxes, were also built to experiment with growing greens throughout the winter.

These developments will be productive in the garden’s larger objective of developing “a student-managed orchard and food garden to provide ample opportunities for students,” says the garden’s mission statement. The garden committee hopes to sell herbs and other produce to OSCA, and OSCA’s Local Foods Committee is considering giving hours to its representatives for working in the garden every week. The garden will also continue to have weekly Garden Hours, and is discussing the addition of a garden speaker system, gazebo, and picnic area to generate more volunteer interest and incorporate more of the community.

However, this is not to say the group has not come across any challenges. Among others, low seedling mortality rates due to heat and thirst, Ohio’s mercurial weather, and low volunteer turnout, have made the process difficult. “The garden relies on thorough line of commitment for continuity of planning and logistics,” says Sylvia Channing, sophomore Environmental Studies major and Garden Manager. Channing says organization has been challenging, planning is tough, but essential and makes a difference once out in the garden directing a group.

Nevertheless, the garden has been a great experience for the small yet passionate group of students involved. “Gardens have a unique way of bringing people from all areas of the Oberlin college and community with shared experiences and knowledge,” says Channing, “the forum of a garden brings everyone to the same level, everyone is effectively a teacher and a student.”

-Abby Collier