On a warm fall day in Washington, DC, Gallaudet University Garden Manager Jalisa Barnett ’18 was watering rows of brightly colored greens in the campus community garden. As she talked about the evolution of the space, she stopped to point out the garden’s new water tanks, a small grove of peach trees, a stretching fig tree, rows of corn, and a plot of strawberries.
The Gally Gardens’ roots are deeply entwined with Bon Appétit. Back in 2009, then–Bon Appétit Fellow Carolina Fojo spearheaded a project in which Gallaudet students and Bon Appétiters transformed an abandoned volleyball court into 14 garden beds. (That project eventually sparked Bon Appétit’s Campus Farmers project, which connects growers on university and corporate campuses all over America.) Since then, Gallaudet’s garden has also gone through different management structures, all leading up to a major transformation this season.
Last school year, Gallaudet forged a relationship with a local DC nonprofit called Cultivate the City (CTC). CTC works with more than 25 garden sites across DC, including elementary schools and the Washington Nationals stadium. It supports educational urban gardens and aggregates produce to supply a citywide CSA program.
At Gallaudet, CTC Education Coordinator Victoria Mirowski advises four Gallaudet interns on best growing practices, taking them to local urban farms to learn from experts. Jalisa and the other interns have been able to transform Gallaudet’s modest plot into a highly productive garden nearly year-round. Interns commit to working the garden for two years, tending its large variety of produce — everything from asparagus and amaranth to mountain spinach and potatoes.
“I do not have enough adjectives to describe how awesome [this] is,” said General Manager Gio Caporicci. “Over the past two years, Cultivate the City and the interns have really taken the garden to a whole new level.”
The partnership with Cultivate the City provides Gallaudet interns with incredible learning experience. In addition to learning production techniques, interns also gain entrepreneurship and management skills. They focus on making the garden financially sustainable through biweekly produce markets and a CSA.
CTC also pushes Gally Gardens interns to think about the garden’s long-term growth. They advise interns on grant writing, and successfully so: Interns have secured funding for a year-round grow room to be installed this year, a rainwater-capture system, and even hydroponic basil-growing towers.
“I do not have enough adjectives to describe how awesome [this] is,” said General Manager Gio Caporicci. “Over the past two years, Cultivate the City and the interns have really taken the garden to a whole new level. They are so empowered and entrepreneurial. They control their own destiny now.”
Even though the garden has been transformed into a self-sustaining enterprise, Gally Gardens’ biggest goal is still building community. “We want the garden to feel like home, like family,” explained Community Outreach Intern Stephanie Niaupari.
As the garden approaches its 10-year anniversary in 2019 with even more ambitious projects in store, its impact will grow right along with it.