Chowan University Serves Community through Garden Project Produce
When a community comes together to create something special, the fruits of their endeavors, or in this case the vegetables, end up benefitting the whole area. With funding sponsored by the Hertford County Public Health Authority and in partnership with the Hertford Soil and Water Conservation District, Chowan University has tilled the soils with hard work and dedication to build a new Community Garden with produce supplying the Food Bank of the Albemarle’s local mobile unit and Chowan’s Thomas Dining Hall.
“Through a partnership with Greg Hughes of the Soil and Water Conservation District, Chowan was able to obtain funding assistance from the Public Health Authority to bring the local area fresh produce directly from farm to table,” explained Dr. John Dilustro, Chowan’s Associate Provost and Director of the Chowan Community Garden. Dilustro continued, “I worked with Greg Hughes on a previous Rain Garden project on campus and I can’t say enough about his help to make this a reality. We are grateful to Jon Kennedy with Pioneer Catering for highlighting the hard work of the students through showcasing the campus grown items in the cafeteria.”
The new Chowan Community Garden is structured so it is staffed by the university faculty, staff and student volunteers. The main goal is to produce fresh food to benefit the local food bank. In addition, the university’s cafeteria pays market value for the locally-grown produce to provide an operational budget for the upkeep of the garden.
“The garden provides a great service opportunity for our student clubs and organizations to help the less fortunate. It’s hard work, but the rewards are immediate and very tangible,” continued Dilustro. “Knowing their work helps feed the needy through the food bank and provides a small portion of their own food source in the cafeteria, our students have been very eager to help, with a wide range of groups participating. Murfreesboro Baptist Church hosts the Albemarle Food Bank every month, and we’re thankful for this opportunity to distribute our harvest”.
Community members and student groups, including fraternities, Campus Ministries, the Roteract Club, the Sports Studies and Physical Education Department, Chowan’s Academic Success Program, and students from Dr. Dilustro’s Plant Diversity class have all worked the soil to bring in a vast harvest of zucchini, squash and cucumbers with well-received reviews, including a highlight for the squash as part of the dinner served at the Chowan Christian Service Association’s fall meeting.
Part of what makes this project so special is that the produce itself is, in fact, special. Dilustro teamed up with food historian Dr. David Shields, an advocate for regional heritage vegetables who spoke previously at Chowan for a “From Field to Table” presentation highlighting local species of Southern vegetables. Shields, the Euphemia McClintock Professor of Southern Letters at the University of South Carolina, has provided his knowledge of heritage seeds to build current and future crops of Cherokee Purple Tomatoes, Hanson Improved Lettuce and Tender Yellow Cabbage Collards, a Carolina landrace species rare outside of the Ayden area of North Carolina. Greg Hughes has also helped select some modern varieties to grow in the garden.
“People like Greg Hughes are great resources for this area, and he has helped in a lot of different ways,” Dilustro said. “The whole community has come together to make this project possible, and we are glad that this project can give something back in return. The feedback has been all positive.” Dilustro continued, “I appreciate the support of Dr. White. He has been a supporter from the beginning and the garden would not exist without his help. It’s great to be at a university that is so committed to giving back to the community.”