The Agroecology Program integrates science-based education, research, and outreach in the fields of agriculture and natural resources. The program consists of specialized agroecology courses, field trips, internships, undergraduate scholarships, graduate fellowships, and training workshops.
One of the most important assets of the Agroegology program is the Organic Garden, a hands-on teaching facility. Students gain experiential learning about food production and its relationship to the ecosystem through gardening and plotted experiments. The garden provides excellent opportunities to understand the various interactions between growing food and ecosystem needs. It contains nine distinct areas for research and education: shade house, class plots, community plots, herb garden, fruit grove, meditation gardening, composting, biofuels and aquaponics.
It was started as a research plot by one of the graduate students for his master’s project. Later in Spring 2008, students in the Agroecology Program expanded it as a teaching facility.
With the establishment of the garden came the formation of the Garden Club in 2008. The Garden Club’s founding members, under the direction of faculty advisors, become the garden’s first caretakers. The garden provided may of these students with their first opportunities to learn gardening basics hands-on. Students built soil with leguminous plants and experimented with different intercropping combinations.
Then, in preparation for the Fall 2008 semester, the Agroecology program established 8 new “teaching beds,” within which students from the program’s two core courses (titled Agroecology and Sustainable Agriculture) would perform garden projects as part of their coursework. These teaching beds allowed for a new hands-on element in the Agroecology program’s curriculum.
The Spring 2009 semester saw the rapid expansion of Garden Club membership and gardening space and projects.
During the Fall 2009 semester, two new beds were added: a new “market bed” (production exclusively for the on-campus farmers’ market) and a keyhole flower bed. In spring 2010, the FIU Organic Garden was named a “People’s Garden” by the USDA. Also during 2010, one of the program’s graduate students, whose thesis topic relates to native plants as sources of biofuel, established a biofuels demonstration plot to the north of the shade house (see Figure 1). This area includes jatropha, simaruba, moringa, and the leguminous (N-fixing) pongamia.
In 2011, the vermiculture project that began during Spring 2009 was reinvigorated by an undergraduate student at the composting area. Also, Aramark, the university’s dining contractor that oversees all food distribution and retailing on campus, began providing food scraps for composting.
During Spring 2012, an influx of new students to the program saw the transfer of former students’ projects into new hands. The meditation plot was adopted by a new student who introduced native herbs and flowers to the plot, advancing both the original theme of spirituality and the garden’s broader theme of perpetuating native species. Also, a new “succulents” area was created when cactus, agave, and aloe were planted along the eastern exterior of the shade house, a relatively dry and rocky area not suitable for other types of plants. Also, an excess of compostable food scraps dumped by Aramark were used to integrate several “banana circles” into the biofuels demonstration area.
The hands on teaching facility is located adjacent to the Nature Preserve.