A small sliver of campus land is providing a bounty of food as the result of one student’s vision and an alumnus willing to provide the resources.
The transformation from grass to garden is occurring near the Parking Services Building along UNF Drive. The garden hosts more than 50 varieties of organically grown fruits and vegetables. Everything from tomatoes and watermelons to basil and bell peppers are thriving under the care of dedicated staff and volunteers. The months between June and November are the most productive for the garden from which produce is hand picked and widely distributed throughout the campus community.
The fertile garden began with an idea. Alumna Katrina Norbom, who was then volunteer coordinator at the UNF Wildlife Sanctuary, proposed establishing a VERB (vegetables and herbs) Garden as a way to foster environmental stewardship on campus by demonstrating organic gardening. She envisioned it as an interactive educational resource where students, faculty, staff and other members of the community could become involved in organic gardening.
Other funding priorities prevented the idea from becoming an immediate reality until alumnus Bruce Ogier entered the picture. Ogier, who as a UNF student was a member of the Sawmill Slough Conservation Club, jumped at the opportunity to provide startup funds now that he is a successful entrepreneur.
Ogier has always loved gardening. Growing up in Jacksonville, he has fond memories of his grandfather Tate’s expansive vegetable garden off Ebersol Road in the Southside. As a result, Ogier caught green-thumb fever at an early age.
Graduating from UNF with a bachelor’s degree in 1974, he pursued a financial career and is currently president of Capital Analysts of Jacksonville, Florida, Inc. Through his involvement with the Student Affairs Community Council, Ogier has remained in close contact with UNF. His love of gardening made for a perfect gift as part of The Power of Transformation campaign.
Ogier and his brother, Frederick Jr., who lives in Dallas, donated the startup funding in memory of their parents, Frederick C. and Ophelia Tate Ogier.
The responsibility for the day-to-day operation of the VERB Garden falls to AyoLane Halusky, chief ranger of the Wildlife Sanctuary, and Jonathan Felts, VERB Garden educational and volunteer coordinator.
Halusky emphasizes that the VERB Garden is an ongoing experiment with many ideas to be considered. Under the current operation, anyone who volunteers at the Sanctuary is entitled to share in the garden’s bounty. Eventually, Halusky hopes to make the garden’s produce available at Market Days at the Student Union, with money raised devoted to continuation of the project. The multi-generational appeal of the garden is especially rewarding to Halusky. “It was very cool to see an early alumnus of UNF join with today’s students to move this project forward,” he said.
The project is much more than merely growing organic fruits and vegetables, said Felts, who offered a series of gardening workshops this fall primarily for students. The programs covered everything from an introduction to organic gardening to composting.
Halusky and Felts see many future applications for the garden. Members of the community may be invited to volunteer and help raise crops side-by-side with students. The garden has already been incorporated into educational programs given by Wild Life Sanctuary staff to thousands of school children each year.
The future of the project is bright, Halusky said because of the long-standing support of Dr. Mauricio Gonzalez, vice president of Student and International Affairs. “He has been very supportive of this project from the beginning and wants to see us expand someday.”