Carr garden work to create a food forest begins

One of the many sustainability efforts at Allegheny College is the Carr Hall Garden, a garden full of fresh fruits and vegetables that are supplied to the two dining halls on campus, Brooks Dining Hall and McKinley’s Food Court.
The Sustainable Design Team is a small group of students from Students for Environmental Action, led by President Sebastian McRae, ’22, and future President Ashlynn Peachey, ’23. SDT has worked together with professors in the environmental science and sustainability department to create a “food forest,” which is expected to be an extension of the Carrden.
Originally established by McRae during his first year, this project was meant to take advantage of the land on campus.
“The reason I started this project is because I saw the opportunity to make better use of the space that we have on campus, the lawn space, which I saw as underutilized when I first got here as a freshman,” McRae said.
The food forest is expected to be an extension of the Carrden and will include fruit trees, berry bushes and edible herbs.
Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Sustainability Jesse Swann-Quinn described the different plants that are expected to fill the food forest.
“The food forest (will move the Carrden) beyond just domesticated plants and vegetables (to) thinking about the other kinds of productive species that are native to the area that we could plant and use to create a semi self-sustaining, more ecological environment,” Swann-Quinn said.
Peachey indicated that peach trees, plum trees, apple trees, cherries and pawpaws will be added to the food forest. She also mentioned that there are some fruits and vegetables being grown in the garden that students might not have known were edible, including the autumn olive, goji berries and gooseberries.
Peachey spoke about permaculture and how the garden implemented this form of agriculture.
“Permaculture is a method of placing things together so that they work well and they build off each other and they can benefit from one another,” Peachey said. “In the food forest, there’s a bunch of guilds, each surrounding a tree. And so these guilds have plants that will work together and benefit each other. So one plant is a nitrogen fixate. One is going to attract pollinators and beneficial bugs.”
Permaculture is also meant to take advantage of all the space that could be used for plants, by adding a bunch of different plants to different layers of the forest.
McRae added that a variety of ways which the campus landscape could be reshaped to be more ecologically friendly and sustainable have already been discussed.
Over the course of the past few weeks, students have started to work on the food forest. The recent fluctuations in the weather have called for additional supplemental precautions to ensure that the plants would be able to grow. Peachey explained the extra precautions that have been taken to avoid harm to the plants.
“All the plants were chosen so that they would be able to survive,” Peachey said. “There are different climates in the United States, so all of them are survivable in this climate. But of course the young trees are so new that we want to protect them as much as possible. Whenever we plant something, we try to put a really nice layer of compost and mulch over it to try to keep the roots warm and keep those from freezing.”
In addition to fluctuations in the weather, the food forest is being structured in a way that prevents wildlife from consuming the fruits and vegetables being grown.
Despite these conditions, the SDT is hosting weekly work parties, where students can volunteer to help mark off regions where plants can be grown, dig the holes for the plants, and plant them. Last week alone, 28 trees and shrubs were planted, according to McRae.
While this project is the first of its kind and is meant to be a trial to see if the benefits from this project will be seen outside of Carr, McRae expects that if this food forest grows well and the benefits are seen, there are other places on campus where other environmentally sustainable projects can take place.
“The lawn area around Murray Hall has always been somewhere that interested us because it’s always so muddy there that no one really likes to use it for events, unless it’s super dry, like in August or something,” McRae said.
McRae also cited other regions on campus, such as the slope outside of Steffee Hall and in the lawn area near Oddfellows, both of which could be used for future sustainability projects.