An Antidote to Student Stress: the Edible Campus Gardens
Learn what food to produce in Scotland, how to choose seasonal fruit and veg, and the skills to grow your own! William Sproxton-Miller, recent graduate, guides us through the Edible Campus Gardens by the University of St Andrews.
Edible Campus is a little-known treasure: running for several years, the project has created 14 community gardening spaces in St Andrews. The gardens are run by Transition University of St Andrews, a social hub working locally to tackle climate change who organize gardening sessions all year round. They will continue to provide activities this semester with social distancing to ensure students can enjoy green space safely during Covid-19.
To balance the hectic periods of student life, William became a volunteer garden leader:
“I’m tempted to tell you that I started growing food because I was exasperated by our unsustainable food supply chains, and I wanted to explore ethical alternatives – but that wouldn’t be quite true. I simply wanted to do something that was meaningful, physical, and an antidote to the stresses of student life. By bringing us into sustained interaction with nature, the progression of the seasons and the world of plants, insects, fungi and soil bacteria, gardening forces us to put the struggles of our own lives into perspective. It Is also an outrageously fun hobby: dead easy to take up, it will bring you season after season of satisfaction.”
Even the least green-fingered person can become involved. William joined the gardening sessions as a first-year student without any knowledge of gardening. Within a couple of years, he had learned enough to be able to manage one of the gardens. Masterclasses and activity sessions each year cover skills such as seed sowing, caring for fruit trees, garden planning and ecological methods like no-dig. “Some go on an expensive course to learn about this stuff, but in St Andrews you can learn for free through Edible Campus”, William says.
The Edible Campus is about hosting fun and accessible gardening sessions for students and the wider community, which everybody can get involved in. It is about making gardening less mysterious, empowering each other, and supplying the tools and know-how – and creating a welcoming and stress-free environment where you can get hands-on with plants and soil. William emphasises the simple benefits of these sessions:
“After you’ve been cooped up in front of a computer screen, or grovelling in the library all day, it can be really wonderful to spend some time pruning an old apple tree, turning over a fragrant compost heap or mulching a majestic rhubarb patch. These are vital, primal, invigorating activities: a reminder of the richness of life.”
By producing food locally with a small carbon footprint and raising awareness around food production, Edible Campus shows how carbon savings are achieved. William stresses, “How we feed ourselves is everyone’s business – and producing some food yourself, even on the smallest scale, really changes your attitude to the cheap, intensively-farmed and imported produce on supermarket shelves.” He adds, “in the 12 months up to March 2020 we produced about 140kg of food in one garden alone. In fact, at an event in freshers’ week last year, we provided lunch for about 30 people using almost exclusively ingredients grown in the town. You will get free food if you come to a session, as harvests are shared among volunteers. What’s not to like?”
The edible gardening sessions will continue this semester with precautionary measures due to Covid-19. You can get involved through the Transition Team’s website. William currently lives in Brighton and continues gardening in his spare time. His donation of the Principal’s Medal 2020 award money to the Transition Team makes a significant contribution to the development of the edible gardens. We wish William and his plants all the best!