UW Students and “Clean and Freshies” Build Garden Beds in Southwest Madison

by J. Ashleigh Ross

a group photo of middle school students and the capstone groupThe Front Yard Gardens is a grassroots effort to beautify the neighborhood and provide healthy fruits and vegetables through “picker plots” that are open to residents in the Meadowood neighborhood. The Gardeners, known as “Clean and Freshies,” area a group of 14-15 year old youth employed through the Youth Services of Wisconsin. This summer, a UW course “The Community and School Gardens in Southwest Madison (Environmental Studies 600), funded through the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies –Zieve/Morgridge Teaching Fellows program) partnered with the Clean and Freshies to design and build new garden beds at the Porchlight apartments on Russet Road, which provides transitional housing to homeless people in Madison. The material and outreach costs were covered through a Center for Integrated Agriculture Graduate Students Mini-Grant.

The course started with a field trip to Eagle Heights Community Gardens, a large community garden on the UW campus. UW students and the “Clean and Freshies” learned about the role that community gardens play in bringing diverse groups of people together to grow healthy food and foster community. Professor Sam Dennis then gave a crash course in participatory planning that included methods for gathering community feedback which was used to understand from the Front Yard Gardeners and other residents how they would use additional garden space. The class incorporated a BBQ in southwest Madison where students were able to talk with additional residents in the area to find out how they wanted to utilize increased garden space.

The Clean and Freshies also visited the UW to review input from the community with the UW students and then generate garden designs. The designs were then shared with the class with discussions about each feature. A master design was created from those designs and was shared with Porchlight for their approval. UW student, Kaylie Duffy, said of the experience, “We worked together to brainstorm potential ideas and plans for the Porchlight lot. Each of us has contributed excellent ideas for the lot, and we have engaged the younger Clean and Freshies to share their wonderful, creative ideas. After the ideas were shared, we mapped out our plans onto large sheets of paper and presented them to the class. I motivated the girls I worked with to share their grandest ideas for the garden, no matter how outlandish they may have seemed. Any concept can become a great jumping off point for a garden design.”

The UW students and Front Yard Gardeners, with support from Community Action Coalition, completed Phase 1 by building and installing the beds during the last two weeks of class. Phase 2 will continue with the fall semester of the Community and School Garden course getting fruit tree donations and building a seating area for residents in the garden. Assistance from CUE will help cover some of the fall building materials.

In addition to garden design/build with the Front Yard Gardeners, UW students also ran a garden and food program for youth at the Meadowood Neighborhood Center and assisted with the Family Garden Night at Lincoln Elementary. Students were also able to secure extra funding from the Audubon Society to support birding activities at Lincoln. ■

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