BY HALEY HODGES
The Des Moines Urban Youth Learning Garden at Drake University sits on the corner of 25th Street and Forest Avenue, right across the street from the Knapp Center. Known more simply as the Sprout Garden, the small garden is part of Drake’s commitment to service and engaged learning.
“The ultimate goal I would say would be to serve as a resource to educate the community on the environment, gardening and healthy food access while also providing healthy produce to the Drake Neighborhood,” said Amanda Martin, the program coordinator for community engagement and service learning. “This is just one more way that we can introduce some healthy food and produce into the Drake Neighborhood so there’s a little more access instead of having to drive or walk or take the bus to grocery stores or other markets that are further away.”
The garden is supervised by the Office of Community Engagement and Service Learning and a student coordinator. The student coordinator is a service learning ambassador who works six to eight hours a week tending to the garden or working in the office.
Martin oversees the Sprout Garden student coordinator of the garden, Lindsay Finnell. Finnell is a sophomore majoring in environmental science and working on creating her own botany minor.
Finnell said she had some experience gardening with her mom and worked at a garden center over the summer. Managing the Sprout Garden and its diverse plantings is on a whole new level.
The garden is currently growing produce including peppers, raspberries, recently sprouted orange cucumbers, and more. They’ve also recently added native prairie plantings, which are good pollinators and help water quality.
The Sprout Garden also partners with the Boys and Girls Club of Central Iowa and hosts weekly meetings to learn about it.
“Once a week, I do outreach with the Boys and Girls Clubs for about an hour,” Finnell said. “They come over to the garden, and we do an informational session where we teach them about gardening and environmentalism. Then we get to have them do something with the garden, so maybe they’ll weed something or right now I think I’m going to have them dig up some potatoes or some turnips. They get to get their hands dirty, and they get to take home whatever fresh produce they want.”
A lot of changes for the garden took place recently with construction beginning on a new pergola, which will eventually include a garden swing, to grow vine produce. Finnell hosted volunteer orientations to introduce student volunteers to the garden.
“We really wanted to make the garden a comfortable place for people to come spend time if they wanted to do homework or just kind of be out in nature,” Martin said. “We wanted to make it an accessible place for the community to spend time, as well, because it is a part of the Drake Neighborhood and it’s a community garden and so through various ways we tried to make it open and welcoming to the community members as well as the Drake community.”
Open garden hours will begin this week from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m. on Saturdays. Volunteers may take produce after work there, and produce is occasionally left in the little free pantries, however dispersion of goods is undergoing evaluation.
Students interested in volunteering can contact Finnell or firstname.lastname@example.org.