Growing Organic Vegetables for All

Oregon State Universities' Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture (OCCUH), a research and teaching facility focused on sustainable landscaping, riparian restoration and organic vegetable gardening, is home to a number of interdisciplinary initiatives. Helping those in need of food is another worthy effort, stretching beyond campus to the Corvallis community.

In 2011, the HORT 260 Organic Farming and Gardening class in the Department of Horticulture decided to participate in Plant a Row for the Hungry, a campaign championed by the Garden Writers Association, where food generated by the extra row is donated to hunger-relief agencies. The class donated over 2,000 lbs of fresh vegetables to the Linn Benton Food Share, South Corvallis Food Bank and other food donation agencies in the Willamette Valley.

Vegetables donated include tomatoes, peppers, squash, onions, potatoes, lettuce, chard, green beans and peas.

While some seeds for the large organic garden are purchased from the class's budget, other seeds and plant starts have been donated by several local businesses including Peoria Gardens, a nursery wholesaler, and Nichols Garden Nursery, both in Albany, OR. Ball Horticulture Company, who runs trials on annual flowers at OCCUH, also donated seeds for new varieties of summer squash and cucumbers. Log House Plants in Cottage Grove, OR, which sells grafted vegetables, donated plants as well. And the OSU Potato Breeding Project provided new varieties of seed potatoes for planting.

Buckman next to some organic eggplant

In 2012, the donation plan is less formal. The Organic Grower's Club has been selling produce at the Wednesday Growers' Market in Corvallis; after the market has ended for the day, Cody Buckman, OCCUH's seasonal employee, delivers about 100 pounds of vegetables to the South Corvallis Food Bank. Once the semester begins, Buckman hopes to connect with OSU's Emergency Food Pantry, a resource for needy students.

For the time being, the organic garden at Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture will be maintained by members of the student Organic Grower's Club, students taking the Organic Farming and Gardening class, by various student interns and by Buckman himself.

After harvest, students will be recruited for the garden's fall cleanup. In addition, students working on their service learning project for CSS 205 Soil Science and GEO 300 Sustainability for the Common Good will be put to work getting the garden ready for winter.

Buckman hopes to one day see the care of the Center's organic vegetable garden to be spread to the local high school.

"4H, high schoolers from the area - we'd love to reach outside the college pool and connect with prospective students," he explained.