With gardening skills, leadership development and a lot of soul, the SOUL Garden, or Students for Organic United Living, cultivates the only student-run garden on Centennial Campus. Located right by Walnut Creek near Lake Raleigh, the garden utilizes the nearby water source, organic compost and a pollinator garden to care for the plants naturally.
Shamsa Visone, a graduate student in the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program, is the manager of the SOUL Garden. Visone is trained in asset-based community development principles and has implemented those principles in the garden.
“By applying ABCD principles, I give the student leaders more than one way to support in the garden,” Visone said. “My focus in my graduate work is Student Leadership and Development. I work one on one with each volunteer officer to assess his or her goals working in the garden, the skills they want to take away and where they would best fit in with the garden's mission. We start from the inside and grow out. Once our volunteer officers are established, I focus on helping our volunteers and collaborating with others.”
The SOUL Garden currently has teams of two or three working on each project and the goal is to allow every officer to play the role of a mentor, according to Visone.
These officers represent diverse departments and disciplines and they come together with the same enjoyment and eagerness to nurture the garden. The fruition of the students’ work is felt as soon as you enter the garden. Butterflies float from plant to plant and the garden feels right at home with the surrounding nature.
“Having a diverse and stable core group of officers who are well-trained, passionate about what they are doing and happy in their roles allows me to recruit within each volunteer’s specialized area and can bring in a more inclusive group of people,” Visone said. “My officers represent almost every department on campus — previous managers were engineers. Currently we have grad students, CALS, CHASS, engineering and biology representatives all working together as our officers. We would love to have officers from soil science, crop science and horticulture.”
Molly Beardslee, a junior studying nutrition science, is a student volunteer at the SOUL Garden.
“I volunteer because I love gardening,” Beardslee said. “Something about it is really relaxing and when you work hard, you can definitely tell by how sore you get. This semester I took on volunteering at the SOUL garden as my source of community service hours for Dr. Patterson's STS 323 [World Population and Food Prospects] class. Also, it's a great way to get outside and chat with some nice folks.”
The garden offers those involved to see their handiwork blossom before their eyes and gives them the opportunity to eat the finished product, according to Beardslee. The garden offers a sense of community.
Allison Mostecak, a junior studying agroecology, is the SOUL Garden marketing manager.
“My involvement with SOUL Garden has allowed me to see volunteers truly come alive while working in the garden,” Mostecak said. “For those who have not yet visited SOUL Garden, it is an extraordinarily peaceful area of campus. To me, SOUL Garden is such a special place to take some time out and get connected with nature. While at the garden, I often speak with lots of casual visitors who are so interested in learning more about our vision at SOUL.”
Eventually the SOUL Garden would like volunteers to leave each workday with not only a sense of serenity and accomplishment, but also with a harvest of fresh, organic vegetables, according to Mostecak.
The SOUL Garden has many partnerships with other organizations to try to offer value for every volunteer who comes to the garden. Just in the past year, the SOUL Garden has collaborated with the brothers of Kappa Alpha Psi, Wolfpack Environmental Student Association, the Scholars Council, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the Nutrition Club, American Marketing Association, Kappa Phi Lambda, Alpha Zeta, Irregardless Community Garden, Engineers Without Borders and the Sustainability Stewards.
“In 2017, we are looking to continue all these partnerships and have already had discussions about including the pollinator community from the Office of Sustainability, APO, the Alexander Hamilton Scholars group and more are inquiring every day,” Visone said.
The SOUL Garden raises its own funds, so it is vital to fundraise to provide continued maintenance and further development of the garden, according to Mostecak.
“For SOUL Garden, I am able to build fundraising skills through conversation with distinguished faculty and corporate businesses throughout the Triangle,” Mostecak said. “We are currently working with Bee Downtown to implement a honey bee hive on Centennial Campus beside Lake Raleigh. Additionally, to support future garden projects, I am able to write grant proposals and even hold free workshops for local youth.”
The SOUL Garden currently has a GoFundMe open to support the development of an herb garden. The club would love to know what students’ favorite herbs are so that they can plant them in the garden, according to Visone.
“We want to do an herb garden,” Visone said. “The great thing with an herb garden is that they’re easy to grow, lots of people like them, but they’re expensive. Once you dry them, you can have them for up to a year. I like to do herb workshops. I would invite the students, we would harvest them together, we would dry them.”
Visone wants to introduce students to making different body products like lip balm, face cream and cleanser using the herbs grown in the garden. Being a volunteer or officer provides benefits not only to the garden but to the students involved as well.
“Our manager, Miss Shamsa, likes to see long-term volunteers establishing a set of personal goals through leadership at the garden,” Mostecak said. “Aspiring leaders can certainly design their very own title here at SOUL Garden. Through this opportunity, students will make goals for themselves in collaboration with the needs of the garden.”
Annie Lopez, a senior studying biological and agricultural engineering, is SOUL Garden’s sustainability steward president.
“I would tell any student who is interested in joining to go to a volunteer day, pronto,” Lopez said. “The SOUL Garden is informal, and we welcome any volunteers who would like to learn and help out, even if you cannot make a large time commitment to the club. You can sign up for the SOUL Garden listserv to receive updates about the schedule for volunteer days.”
Food brings communities together and the SOUL Garden tries to build that sense of community in the garden.
“I am a regular volunteer at the SOUL Garden,” Beardslee said. “I didn't even know it existed until I helped out last semester with Nutrition Club. We worked on fixing up the beds after the hurricane flooded everything. Then, there was a potluck after which really made me want to stick around. Everyone was really warm and inviting and it was my first time meeting them and they gave me food. I just felt really touched by that.”
The SOUL Garden currently has Fall 2017 management positions available.