Creating a garden to raise awareness
Darien Ripple, UB experiential program manager
We are green—and urban. But most of all, we’re invested in our community.
When Darien Ripple, experiential program manager in UB’s Office of Academic Innovation, spotted an unused plot adjacent to campus and next to the Maryland Avenue exit ramp from I-83, the seeds for the Sense of Place: Demonstration Gardens project were planted.
Creating the garden, which now greets southbound highway travelers, originated as a project for UB’s College Readiness Academy, a six-week summer program for local high schoolers. The students were studying Baltimore’s food deserts, areas within the city in which healthy foods such as fresh vegetables are scarce.
“You can walk through whole sections of the city where there are no places to buy fresh food items,” says Ripple, whose goals for the project include raising awareness about nutritious food choices and urban gardening.
Initially, College Readiness Academy students built planting boxes using repurposed pallets from campus construction projects and materials donated by Home Depot, creating a sensory garden of plants such as herbs with intense fragrances, colors and flavors.
“The students had never seen some of the plants before—like fresh oregano,” Ripple explains. “When they realize ‘This smells like spaghetti,’ they experience an emotional connection and a reminder through their senses of what they are creating and studying.”
Now the garden is expanding with the help of faculty, staff and community volunteers and students—like those from the Environmental Ethics class Ripple teaches as adjunct faculty. Collaborations with community members and local businesses are in the works, including activities with elementary schools and partnerships that will provide soup kitchens with fresh ingredients. “What I hope the garden area becomes, besides a tool for education, is a ‘sticky place’ for people to hang out and enjoy conversation and for professors to hold classes,” he says.
Ripple also has plans to start an orchard of fruit trees and is seeking grants from the city, state and other sources to fund future projects. He explains, “You give students an outdoor ‘laboratory,’ and they’ll come up with great ideas.”