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Niagara University wins contest to receive funding for community vegetable garden

by jmaloni
Tue, Feb 15th 2011 05:55 pm
Pictured from left, Niagara University students Erin McKenney and Luna McGill join ReNU Niagara Project Coordinator Leehe Shmueli in celebrating the Feb. 8 announcement that NU will receive a $3,000 grant to institute a community vegetable garden on campus.
Pictured from left, Niagara University students Erin McKenney and Luna McGill join ReNU Niagara Project Coordinator Leehe Shmueli in celebrating the Feb. 8 announcement that NU will receive a $3,000 grant to institute a community vegetable garden on campus.

Sometimes, as the saying goes, it's not the size of the dog that matters. Niagara University, with an undergraduate enrollment of around 3,000 students, garnered more votes than the University at Buffalo (29,000 undergrads), Buffalo State College (9,000) and SUNY Fredonia (5,400) to take the top spot in a contest sponsored by the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and Grow WNY. By doing so, Niagara will receive a $3,000 award, which will be used to construct a community vegetable garden outside of DePaul Hall.

The top three vote getters - Niagara, SUNY Fredonia and the Asarese-Matters Recreational Center - of the College Green Bowl Contest will each receive the award, as announced at a reception on Feb. 8.

"We are so proud of our students for putting together an outstanding proposal and thankful to the university community for coming together to outvote some larger schools," stated Leehe Shmueli, project coordinator with ReNU Niagara, a university outreach program that championed the student proposal. "Now we're going to need everyone to unite once again to help make the garden a huge success for years to come."

In conjunction with NUHOPE (Niagara University Helping Our Planet Earth), members of ReNU Niagara, led by senior Erin McKenney, submitted a project proposal in December 2010. From there, a jury selected four finalists for public voting on Facebook. The winners were announced last Tuesday evening during an event held at Blue Sky Design in downtown Buffalo.

Construction of the community vegetable garden is estimated to begin on campus in late March or early April, when the weather becomes more conducive to outdoor gardening. Prior to that, Niagara's biology club will prepare seedlings in the university's greenhouse to expedite the launch of the garden.

The $3,000 grant earned from the College Green Bowl Contest will be matched by ReNU Niagara and NUHOPE, which will provide students with tools, seeds, a rain barrel and several other necessary items.

The proposal states that the garden will serve as a "microscopic service-learning lab," allowing students to educate each other and area residents on healthy eating, self-sustainability and how to provide food for the greater community. The "microscopic service-learning lab" will consist of the vegetable garden as well as a greenhouse where the vegetables will be seeded, grown and harvested.

It is anticipated that the initiative will strengthen ReNU Niagara by encouraging student participation in the garden on campus, thereby increasing the likelihood that those individuals will later pitch in at other gardens in the area. Correlating with the university's service-learning philosophy, the project is meant to further bridge the gap between NU students and the surrounding communities. Accordingly, any excess produce will be provided to local soup kitchens and food pantries.

"Not only will this garden allow students and the campus community to better understand their environment and self-sustainability, but it will also encourage students to become more involved in Niagara Falls by expanding their work into the ReNU community gardens," said McKenney, referring to community gardens that ReNU Niagara previously helped launch at Kalfas Magnet School and Niagara Falls Neighborhood Housing Services. "ReNU and I worked hard to complete this grant and it will be so exciting to watch our vision come to fruition." 

ReNU Niagara has worked in partnership with non-profits and other community-based organizations since 2006 to build individual and organizational capacity in the City of Niagara Falls and surrounding areas. Consistent with the core values of Niagara University and its mission is to engage, empower and educate diverse community stakeholders to improve Niagara Falls and the surrounding areas.

The College Green Bowl was spearheaded by the Youth Connection, a collaborative effort of members of the Western New York Environmental Alliance. The Youth Connection exists to increase the number of young people participating in the regional environmental movement and to connect young environmental leaders to jobs and opportunities in WNY. One of the primary goals of the College Green Bowl was to encourage teamwork and collaboration amongst college students and amongst student environmental groups. Each project submitted to the College Green Bowl Contest had to list at least three student partners working on the project and list the student and community groups that are involved.

The progress of the community garden project will be documented at www.growWNY.org.

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