SHREVEPORT – LSU Shreveport students will soon have access to fresh fruits and vegetables grown by fellow Pilots.
The Red River Garden Club, an LSUS student group, constructed raised garden beds by the Museum of Life Sciences and will be planting its crop Wednesday.
The initial crops include plants that can stand up to the Louisiana heat like tomatoes, peppers, egg plants, melons and herbs.
This crop will be harvested in early summer and given to the LSUS Food Pantry, which assists low-income students to access nutritious food.
“The entire basis for this community garden is that we wanted to provide fresh produce to low-income students,” said junior Abigail Boykin, the Red River Garden Club president. “A lot of food deserts exist in Shreveport, but whether students are on campus or they commute, we wanted to provide an option for students to be able to cook healthily for themselves.”
Angel Martin, director of student activities and recreation sports at LSUS, which also includes the operation of the Food Pantry, said partnering with the community garden will expand the pantry’s offerings of nutritious, fresh food.
“The mission of the Food Pantry is to reduce food insecurity, but that is not only through providing free food,” Martin said. “We seek to equip students with skills that help them improve holistic well-being including physical, mental, social, environmental, and financial health.
“All of these areas are addressed through a student-led garden. It’s also a great way to show students how easy it may be to maintain their own garden or allow them to pay it forward through volunteering time that benefits their fellow students.”
An official community garden opening ceremony on April 19 will include food, music and do-it yourself stations, including building a mini greenhouse and a succulent terrarium. This event begins at 11 a.m.
Local organization Shreveport Green and its volunteers helped install the six raised garden beds, which Boykin said will reduce the human effort to plant, maintain and harvest the crops.
The beds contain compostable material like sticks and cardboard, which reduces the amount of fertilizer needed.
The club’s unofficial sponsor, Lex Plant Farms in Shreveport, donated seeds as the club has amassed an impressive seed storage stockpile.
“Both of these organizations have been vital to this project,” said Boykin, a Shreveport native. “We wanted to set the beds up for minimal effort and maximum output.
“We can hand-pick the cultivars that we want.”
A mixture of prolific plant varieties, meaning plants that are designed to produce a large quantity of fruit, and heirloom varieties, which are known for their specific taste, will be used.
“The first thing we have to look at is what is going to survive the conditions of the season, and then you consider what is popular – what do students want?” Boykin said. “It’s fun to grow really hot peppers like the Carolina Reaper, but you want peppers that students will actually eat like bell peppers and low-heat jalapenos.”
Boykin and the club are also attempting to install a drip line irrigation system, which can be controlled through a mobile device.
The club started this past fall coalescing around the idea of a community garden, and they planted a small batch of crops near the Health and Physical Education building in a space formerly used for landscaping.
The club officially has 12 members, but Boykin said many more attend workshops the group attempts to host monthly.
“We want to teach people how to feed themselves and all the different applications of food beyond culinary,” said Boykin, a history major who got into horticulture during the COVID-19 pandemic. “(At our workshops), we have a short lecture on a topic and then an interactive part, like making herb planters out of coffee mugs.
“I’d encourage anybody to explore our club, even if they’ve never touched a plant before in their life.”
To learn more about the Red River Garden Club or any LSUS student organization, visit lsus.presence.io.