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English professor Dana Morgan (in purple shirt and scarf) guides students as they plant in the new Organic Learning Garden at SMC earlier this month. (photo by Santa Monica College)

SMC — The new Organic Learning Garden at Santa Monica College is sprouting.

Winter crops such as beets and lettuce, bok choy and fava beans, carrots and kale, and much more have been planted as the beds of soil come to life.

Opened at the beginning of the school year in late August, about a dozen groups of students and employees have each claimed a stake to a patch of dirt and are busy planting fresh and healthy food. Eventually, the growers will be able to eat the fruits of their labor or donate the produce to a food bank.

The college will hold a grand opening ceremony at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at the garden site just outside the Art Complex patio on the main campus, 1900 Pico Blvd. The ceremony will feature live music, speakers and food.

The garden — which had been a seedling lying dormant for years in the hearts and minds of many SMC students and employees — is now the center of busy planting and learning.

“This is a dream come true at last,” said English professor Dana Morgan, who worked with students to spearhead the project.

Completed on time and on budget, the new garden, located on a triangular piece of property, was finished just before the school year began.

With about 1,200 square feet of growing space, the garden’s centerpiece features a fenced-in area with ground-level beds and wooden and concrete planting boxes, storage shed, outdoor sink and benches. Also inside the iron fence is an underground cistern that captures rain runoff from the Art Complex, as well as a pump for that water. The gate is open during daylight hours.

Surrounding the fenced area is a combination of grass and landscaped areas with two sundials, one of them interactive, designed by astronomy professor Gary Fouts; stone water fountain; benches; and a trellis with Canadice grapevines.

“The Organic Learning Garden is a great example of how greening the curriculum can take theory into practice and build community while teaching students about sustainability,” said SMC Director of sustainability Genevieve Bertone.

When it opened, the contractor had put in not only these features, but also some plants and fruit trees. Now, groups of students and employees have been given plots — on the ground or in planters — and are tending to their seedlings. The groups include Club Grow, Associated Students, Disabled Students Center, English and biology classes, and the Management Association. The Modern Languages Department and Organic Arts, made up of arts majors, will be joining the garden this month.

“What is really great is we see a garden community being established on our campus. All these people are collaborating to learn from each other and produce healthy food,” Morgan said. “We have people with no experience and some who have been gardening for years. This diversity is one of our goals.”

The $225,000 project — designed by the Los Angeles landscape design firm Meléndrez and constructed by South Bay Landscaping — is funded by Measures U and S, bond measures approved by Santa Monica-Malibu voters. The idea for the project originated with the Associated Students, which wanted a garden to showcase sustainable farming methods, and was also passionately supported by many employees.

Morgan and Greg Brown, director of facilities planning, were the primary leaders on the project and were named “EcoHeroes” last spring for their work.

Morgan said that aside from the Associated Students, the SMC Environmental Affairs Committee, Center for Environment and Urban Studies, and Board of Trustees were also active in the process.

“Through the activity of planting seeds, harvesting, watering, weeding, digging, and saving seeds,” Morgan said, “we connect with farmers who supply our produce today, and with our ancestors who farmed for generations.”

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