How JWU Denver Students Built a Vegetable Garden from Scratch


Building the garden (top left) and reaping the rewards. All photos by Jasmine Smith '16.

As Executive Vice President of JWU Denver’s Student Government Association (SGA) — as well as a culinary nutrition student — Jasmine Smith '16 is always looking for ways to improve the campus experience for students. Starting a sustainable garden on campus required funding, volunteers and willing student gardeners — as well as a strategic foundation to support its ongoing maintenance. Jasmine explains how she and the SGA kept the project moving forward:

JWU’s Denver Campus has had a student-run garden a few times since it opened in 2000. Motivated students would lead the project and get everything set up, but it would fall apart when they left JWU.

The challenge was to convince the school that things would be different this time — that we could create a sustainable garden for the entire community to use. The SGA organized a strategic plan to ensure the project’s success.

We did not want to start a club. (Clubs had been started to run the previous iterations of the garden and they almost always fizzled out.)

We decided to bring a group of organizations together to oversee maintenance. For example, the Culinary Storeroom is maintaining the garden beds over the summer. And we appointed a new Sustainability Senator to help find educational purposes for the garden.

The Culinary Storeroom’s teaching assistants built the 3 garden beds and filled them. During this process, I contacted two local restaurants for any type of donations. Fruition Farms (run by Chef Alex Seidel and JWU Denver alum Jimmy Warren) and Black Cat Bistro (run by Chef Eric Skokan and his wife Jill) offered their help.

A group of us headed to Fruition Farms to volunteer our time and learn their gardening methods. In return they donated an assortment of seeds; the farmer was kind enough to sprout some of them for us.

Black Cat Farms was able to donate their 3-year-old compost. A few of the teaching assistants drove to the farm to pick up the compost and were given a farm tour. As a thank you for their true hospitality we created signs to be hung on the side of the garden beds.

Each year we invite a group of 11-15 year-olds to campus to learn basic cooking. This year we were able to offer an extra afternoon session to teach them about nutrition and where our food comes from. This was a great opportunity for us to use our garden for education. The students learned about

  • the basics of organic gardening
  • different types of soils
  • compost and vermicompost
  • companion planting
  • sustainability

The goal of this garden is for Johnson & Wales University students to be more connected to food by participating in activities that expand their food knowledge, as well as support lessons in sustainability and the work that goes into producing quality food.

My biggest honor in all this is knowing that JWU trusted our plan, in particular considering this project had been attempted before.

It has also been incredibly rewarding to connect with the other restaurants and farms that helped us kickstart the garden. Both executive chefs who donated were past JWU Denver Distinguished Visiting Chefs, and it’s been fantastic to see them continue their participation with JWU. They have invited us back to their farms to continue to learn techniques.

JWU North Miami Serves Up a Plant-Powered Vegan Dinner

greens from the garden, and the first veggie harvest at JWU Denver.

JWU Denver student Jasmine Smith harvests greens from the Denver Campus garden.

The garden’s first harvest.

Topics: Denver Sustainability