ISU students convert vacant garden into healthy food for Ames free meal program

Dietetics gardeners

Student Dietetic Association gardeners, from left: Susie Roberts, Mariah Dougherty, Liz Bogle, Rebecca Jardon, Jenna Roeding and Samantha Green. Larger photo by Bob Elbert.

AMES, Iowa -- An Iowa State University student group has adopted an unused on-campus garden plot to help out an Ames free meal program.

Most of the fresh produce from the Student Dietetic Association's summer garden will go to Food at First, which turns grocery and food service daily waste into free meals for anyone.

"Food at First is always in need of fresh produce," said Rebecca Jardon, an ISU senior and co-president of the Student Dietetic Association. She's leading the summer service project with a handful of fellow dietetics students.

"We're not sure if any of us are good gardeners, but we have a horticulture graduate student helping us out," Jardon said.

Previously used by a 4-H Club, the 820-square-foot garden plot is near the Extension 4-H Building on the north edge of ISU's campus. During the past week, the students have been busy planting and watering a variety of healthy vegetables — from broccoli and carrots to tomatoes and watermelon.

Gardeners working

Susie Roberts, a junior from Ankeny who is taking a summer school class, thought the garden project "would be a good way to give back to the dietetics program." Although Roberts and her husband have gardened before, "this is definitely larger than what we're used to," she said.

Senior Liz Bogle from Centerville is treasurer of the Student Dietetic Association and "just wanted to be more involved" in the group's activities this year. Last summer, she worked on the garden at Kate Mitchell Elementary School in Ames.

Mariah Dougherty, a sophomore from Ames, is helping with the garden "to spend some time outdoors" while attending summer school and working in a campus food science lab.

"I have a garden at home and like to garden," Dougherty said. "And donating the produce is a good cause."

Horticulture graduate student Samantha Green from Hudson, said the lettuce should be ready in a month, with squash and watermelon closing out the bounty in August. Of course, that's assuming all goes well — they already have to replant tomatoes damaged by a late frost, she said.

The Student Dietetic Association provides dietetics majors with presentations by professionals from various branches — for example, pediatric dieticians, sports dieticians, food service dieticians, etc. The students also give talks about nutrition to other student groups, demonstrate healthy cooking techniques and participate in community service projects.

"We're really excited to do something different — a healthy, sustainable service-oriented project," Jardon said. "And we might learn more about gardening in the process."