CILCE Corner: Aaron Hays Plants the Seed of Sustainability in UST Stewardship Garden

Senior Aaron Hays seems always on hand to explain the latest cause. A big fan of what the CILCE office stands for, Aaron has taught me so much this semester, including concepts such as “green washing,” “intentional living community,” “crop rotation,” and a plethora of other concepts that don’t come naturally to my suburban background. As I have gotten to know him, I have become a huge fan of his work, and I’m hoping the teeny backyard garden at the Bance household will flourish this summer thanks to his input.

Aaron is a fascinating guy. A journalism major who will be graduating this spring, he has been one of the main forces behind the UST Stewardship Garden since its inception in 2010. This past year he received a Community-Based Research Grant, which awarded him $4,000 to work over the summer to complete a major research project that benefits a local community organization. Because of his close ties with the garden, Aaron proposed to do more research to assess whether the project was meeting its goals.

UST Stewardship Garden

Students from the REAL Program help with planting and learn about urban gardening.

Aaron partnered with Redesign Inc., a nonprofit company that offers community development services in the Seward neighborhood in Minneapolis. UST alum Megan Sheridan, who founded the garden as part of her senior project in 2010, is now a project manager at Redesign and acted as Aaron’s community mentor. From the academic side of things, Aaron collaborated with faculty advisers Dr. Adam Kay of the Biology Department and Dr. Elise Amel of the Psychology Department.

He really earned his keep. To fulfill the requirements for his grant, Aaron worked in the garden full time for 10 weeks, not to mention the extra work he put into planning and preparing. He not only spent his time planting, cultivating, counting and measuring but he also led nutritional seminars, donated produce to local food shelves and Dining Services, and hosted a pot luck as part of the garden’s effort to promote campus self-sufficiency.

Stewardship Garden

The UST Stewardship Garden is located behind Brady Educational Center on the St. Paul campus.

“Over the last summer we were able to act as an organizational hub for other projects,” he said. The garden hosted students from both Dr. Christina Meyers-Jax’s nutrition class and from Multicultural Student Services’ REAL program. In return for the visiting students’ elbow grease, Aaron and other garden leaders taught them about topics such as biodiversity, food security and food justice. They also discussed the growing need for fresh fruits and vegetables in an urban environment and methods of growing food effectively in an urban setting. In addition, Aaron visited a theology class to speak about the importance of his project.

“Large institutions like [UST] need to find ways to be self-sufficient,” he said. The most important part of his project was, dare I say, planting the seed of becoming self-sustaining in producing food.

Aaron believes that the Stewardship Garden has “great possibilities.” Through projects like it, he hopes that organizations like ours will be able to “reduce reliance on fossil fuels and create jobs and real-world experience for students.” In the future, he would like to see this model cultivated in local schools.

His project and all it engendered began with his application for a Community-Based Research Grant. The deadline for grant proposals is Friday, Feb. 24. For more information contact David Steele, (651) 962-6038.