October 23, 2014, Cairo – The Research Institute for a Sustainable Environment (RISE) at The American University in Cairo (AUC) has initiated Adopt-a-Plot program, which encourages the AUC community members to cultivate and harvest their own vegetable plots on campus. Seasonal fruits and vegetables such as okra, bell peppers, chili peppers, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, arugula, turnips, watermelon, radishes and leeks will soon be a part of campus –– and grown by the University’s own students, faculty and staff.“I’ve always wanted to expand my knowledge in gardening, but on a more community-oriented level,” said Frank Bartscheck, a journalism and mass communication graduate student. “It’s nice to know that I am giving back to the community as well.”
Through Adopt-a-Plot, RISE provides each gardener with a plot of land. Under the guidance of Muhammad Wahba, a RISE researcher, gardeners are responsible for their personal plots for an entire semester.
For many, the program is primarily an educational experience. Gardeners come in with varying levels of expertise; some have never touched a shovel before. “Participants learn by doing,” said Tina Jaskolski, head of the research unit at RISE. “We want people to experience the environment. You get your hands dirty. It’s hands-on work.”
As an add-on to the program, RISE is offering classes on cultivation this year. “We have a few additions to the program that we hope are going to give participants a bit more time together and more occasions to meet,” said Jaskolski. “We will hold one free session per month where people may learn about pest control, diseases, weeding and other topics related to planting and cultivation. We have an expert gardener running the classes.”
While AUC community members hope to find out about simple gardening practices, for students, the program is the perfect opportunity for hands-on learning. “Class course work includes students having practical sessions with us; it becomes part of their assignments,” said Jaskolski. “We’re hoping to involve students more and more in sustainability research projects on campus.”
In addition to its educational aspects, Adopt-a-Plot also works to bring the AUC community together. Gardeners share plots and work alongside one another, building relationships across department and student-teacher affiliations. “The program connects students, faculty and staff in sustainability work that is not only educational, but also fun,” noted Jaskolski.
A pilot phase of the program was carried out in Spring 2013, initiated and supervised by RISE researcher Yumna Kassim, and several past participants have returned this fall. “The first season was a bit of a trial. We learned what works, what doesn’t work,” said Stephens. “This semester is a lot more organized, and we’ll be eliminating those vegetables that didn’t work and trying new ones again.”