Throughout the academic year, Green House Learning Community residents in Leopold Residence Hall take part in seminars, field trips, shared meals, volunteering opportunities, and discussions that focus on the theme of sustainability.
When new residents arrive on campus in September, they reap the rewards sown by the previous generation of residents from the GreenHouse garden in the form of fresh produce on their dinner plates. In the meantime, the new greenhouse cooling system, which was supported by the Office of Sustainability Green Fund, helps the otherwise hot, humid space to be a comfortable learning and working environment for students.
The GreenHouse agricultural cycle starts with students growing thousands of seedlings during one of the spring seminars held in the greenhouse. This spring, Tom Bryan, who is Garden and Greenhouse Manager, and Sarah Jacobsen, a GreenHouse Program Assistant, will lead students in a survey of nursery production by growing about 150 different flower and vegetable varieties in the greenhouse.
When the weather warms, the students in the spring seminar will transplant the matured seedlings into the quarter-acre GreenHouse garden, which is adjacent to the Eagle Heights Community Garden on part of the UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences research plot. When the course ends, there will be opportunities for paid internships caring for the garden over the summer so that when new generation of GreenHouse residents arrive in September, the bounty of produce can be maintained. The garden often becomes an important and nostalgic place for GreenHouse alumni to connect, work, eat, and relax beside current residents.
Alan Turnquist, Program Coordinator of GreenHouse Learning Community, says the greenhouse provides space for producing food and plants, but what makes it special is that it serves as an important community space for residents to use.
“It’s a unique greenhouse on campus because of its proximity to where students live and spend their time,” Turnquist says. “They’re learning from doing the projects and from the seminars that we offer. The cooling system pays a lot of dividends beyond what you normally think of in the greenhouse, like plant health—it’s also about the impacts on student health and engagement, [which is] a big part of community health and sustainability.”
What happens to all of the harvested produce that starts in the GreenHouse? Each semester, the GreenHouse hosts three to four community meals for its residents. In the fall, the meals are woven into the fall seminar for GreenHouse residents, which has a 95 percent enrollment rate. During the seminar, students do weekly readings, listen to guest speakers, engage with the community and enjoy shared meals using produce from the GreenHouse garden. UW Housing Dining and Catering Services creatively prepares these meals.
Just last week, GreenHouse students, faculty, and alumni came together for the final community meal of the fall seminar.
Everyone feasted on a creatively-crafted menu of roasted seasonal vegetables, wild rice, Cornish game hens, and pumpkin pie. The 85 pounds of produce used in the meal was provided from the GreenHouse Learning Community’s garden.
Tim Van Deelen, the new faculty director of the Greenhouse Learning Community, also treated attendees to a lecture about hunting as a sustainable lifestyle choice while they dined.
Jordan Salinsky, a senior serving a second year as a GreenHouse House Fellow, attended the dinner. She remembers when she first came to GreenHouse Learning Community as a first year resident in 2014, where she quickly found a sense of community that has lasted her entire academic career at UW-Madison. In addition, Salinsky says that she has seen fellow residents grow by becoming involved in the Madison community.
“During the ROOTS Seminar, which is an Introduction to Sustainability course just for GreenHouse residents [in the fall], students volunteer with environmental organizations throughout Madison—from the nearby Friends of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve to the Goodman Youth Farm,” Salinsky says. “I think students who choose to live in GreenHouse come in very passionate, very excited about environmentalism and by the end of the year, they are able to look at environmental issues in connection with social justice.”
This year, there are six different seminars for the spring semester ranging from topics of environmental social justice to woodworking. All are 1-credit, taught in Leopold Residence Hall, and are exclusively for GreenHouse residents. The learning that happens in the GreenHouse continues to leave an impact on past residents and the greater Madison community.
By: Trina La Susa