By Jennifer Gustavson

A Stony Brook University graduate has invested his own time and money this semester to maintain a campus community fruit and vegetable garden located at the South P parking lot.

The garden, known as the Stony Brook University Organic Garden, is to serve as a point of action that students can take to increase local economics, community, and environmental awareness, according to Eli Gideon Steier, 23, an English student teacher. He plans to uphold the SBUOG and encourages all who are interested to join in the farming efforts—no experience necessary. “It’s a great point of focus for people to get to know each other that normally wouldn’t,” Steier said. “I like the idea that people can just work together.”

Most of the seeds planted are organic and the garden is raised organically, Steier says, with “just soil, dirt and weeding.” Steier added that he doesn’t consider himself an authority on organic gardening, but feels that this could possibly become more than just a hobby. “A part of me wants to be a farmer,” he said. “It’s really a joy to see things grow.”

Steier values fresh produce and likes tending to the SBUOG. “No food tastes better than food you grow yourself,” he said. “I like the idea that you could actually support yourself by growing your own food.” Along with enjoying the fruits of his labor, Steier said he takes pleasure in donating produce from the garden to the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook. His future goals for the garden include having more student involvement and setting up a farm stand for the SBUOG.

Sarah Wasser, 23, a library science student at SBU, helps Steier maintain the garden.  “I really think that the garden could be a great investment for the university because organic food could be grown on campus and used for all of the dining areas,” Wasser said in an e-mail. “I know that the cost of food on campus is very expensive, so if the university wanted to, they could have organic produce grown on campus.” She added that with omitted transportation costs, along with voluntary help from students, the result would be lower campus dinning costs. According to Newsday, record fuel prices are boosting competition as local growers vie with huge agricultural businesses that ship goods across the United States.

Steier says the SBUOG currently has tomatoes, peas, Swiss chard, and about 150 radishes. “I find radishes are impossible not to grow,” he said. “And the good thing about them is you get your reward really quickly because they’ll start germination and will come out of the soil in about 4 to 7 days.” He started a Facebook group titled, Stony Brook University Organic Garden, and recently announced that a couple of peppers and nine tomato plants have been “successfully transplanted” from his dorm to the SBUOG. Steier grows tomatoes, peas, sunflowers and various herbs right from his windowsill.

Heidi Hutner, an English professor at SBU, explained on her blog, ecofeminismtheory.blogspot.com, that a group of students from her Ecofeminism course started the campus garden in 2005. According to Hutner, the students “wanted to see for themselves how organic farming might work…Students put the knowledge they were gaining into physical practice—they planted trees, seeds, and they brought in organic soil and fertilizer.”

Steier says that as he tends to the campus garden, a wide range of people often come up to him to give their gardening tips, as well as offering to help maintain the garden. He added that a university bus driver also donated a tomato plant to the SBUOG this semester.

“I like the idea we’re all here working towards a common goal,” Steier said. “I don’t like the cowardness of bureaucracy. I want to be self sufficient.”