Nature will always be our greatest teacher – a constant reminder that we are not separate from it or each other.
The University of Texas Concho Community was established in the Spring of 2011 as a Green Fee project to serve as vibrant resource for the community by promoting gardening, sustainable agriculture, & environmental cooperation. Without knowing how much East Campus would change over the next 5 years, the students decided to cultivate life and community on ¼ acre parcel of land near campus that wasn’t being used. For a few years, the Concho attracted thousands of community service volunteers and people interested in becoming more sustainable by working with the environment. The garden became open space for the forging of a community that grew with one another, explored important environmental topics, and connected to nature through food.
In the Fall 2014, most of the plots that were installed were falling apart due to a sloped landscape, invasive Bermuda grass ripping them apart (our worst enemy!), and them being built with treated wood and nails. We decided to move forward with a renovation and start from scratch.
In Spring 2015, we began to build new, durable plots with cedar wood (rot and pest resistant) that would be installed into the ground with 1ft stakes. But not too long after building our first round, we got news that Concho would be razed in the near future for the construction of graduate student housing. Thus, we wrote a new Green Fee proposal for a “pocket-garden” model on main campus, where mini-gardens would be scattered throughout campus. While we continued to move forward with plot building and wanted to make the most of what we had while we had it, soon after we got an update that Concho would actually be able to stick around for the next 1-2 years. So, over the next year, over 1,000+ volunteers contributed their time and energy to building and installing 40 brand new raised garden beds, sheet mulching the entire garden, and cultivating tons of fresh, organically-grown produce.
By the Spring of 2016, Concho was looking the best it ever had. In addition to the new plots, we installed over 15+ community areas, constructed 3 teaching plots, and had eliminated most of the grass in sight. Additionally, we started teaching weekly Garden 101 Classes where anyone could learn about gardening, environmental issues, and how to become more conscious consumers in exchange for service hours. Not to mention, we also taught 80+ children from the UT Child Development Center across the street for our long-standing Lil’ Gardeners program.
Unfortunately, the threat of being demolished circled back to us towards the end of the semester and it was confirmed that the Summer of 2016 would be Concho’s last growing season. Despite Concho and Microfarm leaders tirelessly advocating for the preservation of both of these student-run projects, UT’s large-scale development plans were prioritized, with Concho slated to be shut down by the beginning of Fall of 2016 and the Microfarm by Summer 2017. While this disheartening news is a reflection of Austin’s (and the world’s) loss of green spaces due to development, student leaders and the Office of Sustainability are working to secure a new student-run sustainable agriculture project close to campus. In the meantime, plots from Concho are being moved to our neighbors, the Microfarm, so that plot owners can continue to garden over the next year while long-term plans are in the works.
Top 3 pictures: Concho in the earlier years; Bottom 3 pictures: Post-renovation
My takeaway from this experience is that nature shows her resilience in many forms, and we have a lot to learn from her. Five years ago, the seed of an on-campus community garden was planted. Out of the depths of the soil, it began to rise, sprout, and flourish. The seasons changed and so did the plants; some returned to the soil; unwanted weeds were plucked; new seeds were planted. With spring showers and sunshine came flowers and we harvested the fruits and veggies of our labor. But in nature, nothing lasts forever. The flowers soon wilt, but they leave behind little bits of wisdom from the plant’s past lives that can be cultivated elsewhere: seeds – the ultimate representation of creation, hope, and promise for new life.
Check out this video to see Concho’s transformation over the last 5 years. Cheers to community, Concho, and creating new life!
I hope that UT will strive to promote its sustainability goals throughout the future by supporting opportunities in sustainable agriculture, getting students outdoors, and engaging our community in environmental service. Being Director at Concho for the last 2 years has taught me countless lessons from the plants, insects, and thousands of people I met at the garden. I am alway so grateful to have had this experience that allowed me to grow in all ways as a person, so I hope others will have the opportunity to channel this passion and do the same at a new location. While we’re losing the little green oasis that is Concho Community Garden, I know that all of the inspiration, knowledge, and awareness we cultivated will not be gone with it. We did it once, and it can be done again.
All my best,