On a normal day, the UA Little Rock campus teems with life; students hustling to and from class, instructors sharing their passions with next-generation thinkers, and faculty offices addressing the whirl of day-to-day tasks required to keep our school operating at its finest. Although we’re used to the typical business of life at university, tucked in the corner of campus, shining right onto Fairpark Boulevard, lives an independent world of itself: our campus garden.
The UA Little Rock garden has been growing since 2012, blossoming under the care of our Garden club and its directors Drs. Stephen Grace and Michael DeAngelis.
“The garden started as a collaboration, initiated by a professor in the Anthropology department, Dr. Crystal Lewis and it involved the Anthropology club,” Grace said. “They wanted to promote native plants and sustainable landscaping.”
Although the garden hadn’t anticipated the heavy food production it has today, Dr. Grace saw the potential for a fully-developed garden, capable of providing produce to Little Rock’s residents.
“Our mission at the garden is to have healthy, locally-grown, nutritious food available to our community,” Grace said. “We donate a lot of food; this last summer we donated about 12,000 pounds to food pantries and other local farm stands.”
Through the dedication of its management team, our garden has been able to maintain activity, despite the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We haven’t been able to have as many farmstands over the last [year], but what we have done instead is we have opened up our garden for folks to come in on a donation-request basis,” Grace said. “They pay what they can afford, which is sometimes nothing; but that’s what we’re here for.”
Not only does the garden provide access for UA Little Rock and the surrounding community to acquire fresh produce, but it also serves as an educational resource as well.
“We offer classes that take advantage of the garden space, like a class I teach in the summer, ‘Class, Food, and People,’” Grace said. “Part of this class is learning basic horticulture and gardening methods, and also looking at the issue of food systems, [focusing on] where food comes from, how it’s grown, how to do so sustainably, and how to address food insecurity.”
The garden and its directors, Drs. Grace and DeAngelis, offer a systematic approach to flaws within the food industry, primarily through urban gardening.
“This can fill a gap in providing fresh produce,” Grace said. “We are trying to promote awareness for the potential of urban farming.”
Not limiting their audience to UA Little Rock students, Grace and DeAngelis are also in communication with the city.
“With one acre of urban gardening, and replicating that through the municipality, you can provide a very substantial amount of food,” Grace said.
Other members of the management team – students, faculty from varying departments, and locals – participate as well. The President of the Garden Club, senior Lily Shaw, has been involved for over a year now.
“I started out as a volunteer,” Shaw said. “After a while, I became the President of the Garden Club and did an internship to help maintain [the garden] over the last winter.”
Shaw focused her time at the campus garden to supplement her degree as well.
“Here I am getting a biology major, but my end goal is a degree in Botany, so getting to work with a wide variety of plants you don’t usually see if the supermarket was really helpful,” Shaw said.
Despite the biological nature of the garden, the volunteers are often from interdisciplinary fields.
“I want other people to be able to get out here because a lot of students live in dorms and apartments, and don’t have a space for a garden in their own home,” Shaw said. “This is a great place to be able to get produce, which is sometimes hard to find.”
The garden was established almost a decade ago, but through the involvement of students like Shaw, it will continue to expand and impact our University.
“We are always happy to have volunteers, we would love it for them to come out and support our food stands or help volunteer,” Grace said.