Renovations and Upgrades Are Taking Place at FAU Davie’s Greenhouse & Gardenby Sheryl van der Heiden, Roberto Santiago, & Alberto Fernandez | Thursday, Jul 01, 2021
Though a discernible feature of the Davie campus landscape, the FAU Davie Greenhouse often goes unnoticed. Located east of the parking lot across the street from the James A. Scott Education and Science Building, the greenhouse caught the eye of Campus Life Advisor, Francine Coker, and former Students Advocating Volunteer Involvement (SAVI) Director, Rahjanni Iusi, in late 2019. Looking for eclectic opportunities to engage students in volunteer work, Coker approached the Department of Biological Sciences to organize a "Greenhouse Clean-Up Day" on Dr. Martin Luther King Day, 2020. Little did Coker know that her concern would lead to badly needed renovations being approved for the greenhouse and its garden.
The Davie Greenhouse was built in 2007 by the then Environmental Science Director, Dr. John Volin, who conducted research on the invasive nature of nuisance plants. "After Dr. Volin left, the greenhouse began to deteriorate," said Sheryl van der Heiden, instructor with the Department of Biology, Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, and Dr. Volin’s former graduate student. "The decline did not happen immediately, nor overnight. But its maintenance budget was drastically cut. This left professors, whose graduate students utilize the space for research activities, to barely maintain it," she said. "Eleven years later, the greenhouse is in dire need of attention. I appreciate the SAVI volunteers, who helped me straighten up the inside and manage the garden beds outside."
Over the pandemic with fewer available volunteer opportunities, SAVI sustained its presence with two to three Greenhouse days per semester to plant, weed and harvest the existing raised-bed garden. In addition, Campus Life invited Upward Bound participants to join in summer 2020 and winter 2021. The high schoolers cleaned up debris, planted the pollinator garden, and harvested a portion of the produce.
Among the students attending the SAVI events were Yara Zbib and Jonathan Gloria. Both developed a fondness for the aging structure and began to see its greater potential. Encouraged by Campus Life, Zbib rallied the FAU chapter of the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS), for which she served as president in 2020-21. AIAS conceived of the Design+Build Project, an opportunity to "get involved in the community through design," according to Zbib. "Our goal was to add community garden space on the Davie campus to encourage students to grow their own fruits and vegetables." AIAS accomplished their goal on May 22 when ten members installed a uniquely designed raised-bed garden in front of the greenhouse.
Jonathan Gloria engaged a broader portion of the student body. When he was elected Speaker of the House for FAU Broward, he decided to lobby for a facility uplift in the university-wide student Senate. Gloria wrote a bill to merit the Davie Greenhouse funds to repair some of its declining systems and called it "The Greenhouse Uplift." Though passed in the Senate and House, the first version of the legislation was vetoed on a technicality. With feedback from other FAU SG leaders and MaryBeth Lockwood, his Campus Life Advisor, Gloria revised the bill and successfully saw it signed into legislation.
Late May, the "Greenhouse Uplift" began with the acquisition of supplies and equipment available to continue on the track to regenerating the Greenhouse. Lockwood acted decidedly and effectively to utilize the funds for the vision of providing a safe and healthy garden space for Davie campus students. Not all the merited funds could be used as the fiscal year closed within weeks of the signing of the bill. Yet, Gloria remains optimistic that students will continue to support the Greenhouse Uplift in the next year.
"I am exceedingly grateful to Rahjanni, Yara, Jonathan, Francine, MaryBeth, and Nori Carter (Director of Campus Life), and all the volunteers that have brought life into the Greenhouse," said Instructor van der Heiden, adding "it’s time to fill it with plants again."
Van der Heiden plans on using AIAS’s Design+Build raised-bed garden to engage her botany students in growing their own study specimen (plants) when she teaches Vascular Plants (BOT 3223 and 3223L) in Fall 2021. She believes in increasing the students’ hands-on experiences in growing and experimenting on living plants.
In addition to academically-based botanical training, she hopes the vegetable garden provides the venue for informally teaching Davie students from diverse backgrounds and academic fields. The collective interest in growing one’s own food in the urban environment surged during the pandemic. The crisis contributed to opening awareness of the need for sustainable local food production and a measure of self-sufficiency. The invigorated garden creates opportunity for Davie students, who envision themselves growing their own foods but don’t know where to start.
Consider yourself invited to inquire through SAVI, Campus Life, or Instructor van der Heiden on how you could spend a few minutes before or after class digging in the healthy soil, soaking in the sun’s rays, and tasting natural, fresh vegetables.