Alana Rodriguez’s story is a familiar one. She moved to New York after high school to study psychology and after getting her degree she worked as a paralegal for several years in the city. But after awhile, she realized she wasn’t particularly happy. She wanted to make a change.
Rodriguez moved back to Miami and started over at FIU in 2014 – as an environmental engineering major at first, but then switched to agriculture science after developing a love for growing plants and gardening.
“Gardening is like therapy for me. I don’t have to think about my other problems because I’m too hot and sweaty to even think about them,” Rodriguez says with a laugh. “It ended up becoming something that was really rewarding for me. With gardening, everyone reaps their own rewards in their different ways.”
Rodriguez’s passion for gardening led her to the FIU Garden Club, which is dedicated to teaching students and others about the different methods of growing plants and the basics of gardening. She currently serves as the club’s president.
AN ‘OASIS’ FOR EVERYONE
The FIU Organic Garden, tucked away at the southwest side of the Nature Preserve, is one of the university’s hidden treasures and home of the garden club.
Established in 2007, the garden serves as a hands-on teaching laboratory that provides agroecology students the opportunity to put what they are learning about food production and its relationship to the natural environment into practice. The club was formed in 2008, giving students a chance to get their “hands dirty” and become caretakers of the garden.
Helping the organic garden grow and thrive in an urban city like Miami and a campus continually expanding such as FIU has been a special experience for those involved with the garden club.
“The garden is my favorite part of campus. It’s an oasis in the middle of everything,” says Amie Esteves, the club’s garden manager and a senior agricultural science major. “Being from Connecticut, you have to stay inside almost 8 months out of the year and it’s horrible. To be able to go outside in February and feel the sun, it’s a fantastic feeling.”
The garden contains nine areas devoted to research and education, including a shade house, a fruit grove, a meditation garden and an aquaponics system. A quick walk around and you will find dozens of different types of plants – from tomatoes, lettuces and eggplants to pomegranates and mangoes.
SOWING THE SEEDS
But thanks to the Garden Club, the garden isn’t just for agroecology students; all FIU community members are welcome. Students from many different majors, from engineering to music and everything in between, come out to organic garden on Friday afternoons to learn about best practices and plant their own fruits, vegetables and other types of plants.
“A lot of people in Miami are not very familiar with gardening in general, so our main objective is to teach people different methods of growing and gardening,” Esteves says. “We want to teach people about sustainable agriculture and practices and how important it is to know where your food comes from and how it’s grown.”
Vaishali Sharma, a senior art major and international student from India, found out about the club through the farmer’s market, which is held on Wednesdays in the Green Library breezeway.
She occasionally visits the garden and attends the club’s workshops and gardening outings, after which she and several others would stick around afterward to meditate in the meditation garden.
The club has given Sharma a friendly community that helps her stay connected to nature.
“It’s always nice to go and learning more about the foods we eat, the different kinds of herbs and what I can grow at home,” says Sharma, who lives on campus.
REAPING THE REWARDS
After a while, the club’s members can literally enjoy the fruits of their labor, and there is something uniquely satisfying about eating a cherry tomato or yellow pepper you planted yourself.
“We see what they want to grow and we try to personalize the experience for them,” Esteves says. “They can even take home some of the plants they help grow.”
Rodriguez adds: “To put in so much work and effort and to, literally, reap what you sow, it’s very rewarding.”
The club hosts a number of different types of workshops throughout the semester to help members learn about the many different aspects of gardening, including crop maintenance, soil care and bonsai gardening.
And the work and physical toil that goes into gardening can help students learn lessons that they will be able take with them outside the garden – including patience, attentiveness and persistence.
“In gardening, you learn to accept failure and not take it so hard. You try planting something new and sometimes it doesn’t do well,” Esteves says. “You just keep trying and keep practicing.”
To find out more about the Garden Club or to contact them, go to their OrgSync page.