A grant from the USDA and private sources will finance the projects.
By V. Finster
The staff of Sinkin Eco Centro and volunteers are repurposing problematic flood-prone areas around campus into spaces that promote biodiversity, redirect rainwater and grow fruits and vegetables.
The six community gardens will enter full production by the spring semester.
Eco Centro Director Meredith Miller said in an interview Nov. 7 the gardens will incorporate three components.
The first component is low-impact design.
She said the college ends up paying for the water and its disposal as well as fuel and labor costs to maintain landscaping.
“If it’s grass, you water it and then you mow it; and then you water it and then you mow it,” Miller said.
Miller said low-impact design tackles the economics of lawn maintenance on the front and back end.
She said rainwater in South Texas is also an issue.
“We know that natural creeks with a certain slope and certain vegetation are really good at preventing flooding and channeling water where it needs to go,” Miller said.
Miller said mitigating flooding cuts down on health hazards associated with stagnant water.
“When you have water sit for a certain period of time, you have bacteria and other things that kind of accrue that we don’t want on our campus,” Miller said.
Communications relations Coordinator Dyhanara Rios said the Arroyo Gardens, the space adjacent to the greenhouse between Chance Academic Center and the nursing and allied health complex was a ditch before the center started the project in April.
“Now it has a little waterway that diverts a lot of the water that comes in with the rain,” Rios said.
The second component is creating habitats for urban wildlife affected by climate change.
Ariana Fuentes, farm and garden coordinator for the center, said urban cities inadvertently destroy native plants impacting wildlife.
A lot of the native plants and native foods for these animals are gone, Fuentes said.
“We tend to plant tropical or toxic varieties of plants, slowly destroying the food availability for the animals’ native to our area.”
She said the gardens will protect the food and living spaces for local wildlife such as birds, skipper butterflies and bees.
Rios said the gardens will feature native drought-resistant plants.
She used the monarch butterfly migration as an example of how the gardens will attract pollinators essential to plants’ life cycles.
The third component is a food forest.
“Imagine being able to walk from class to class and be able to harvest something healthy on your way over,” Rios said.
Miller said that it has been reported up to 50 percent of community college students experience issues with food availability.
“The city of San Antonio’s rate of poverty is higher than the national average, so that tells me the statistic of 50 percent could be higher here,” Miller said
Miller said a long-term goal of these forests is bringing what is grown on campus into food production areas.
“If you go to buy lunch, you might be eating some produce that we grew,” Miller said.
Fuentes said winter crops include lettuce varieties such as Swiss chard, peach and plum trees.
Fuentes said the center uses Fanick’s Garden Center Inc. and San Antonio Permaculture’s planting calendar to gauge which produce to plant seasonally in each garden.
“We also look to our local growers, too,” Fuentes said.
Visit www.alamo.edu/sac/about-sac/our-college/maps/ to view an updated campus camp with community garden locations marked.
All six gardens will be completed for about $17,000, Miller said in an interview Nov. 7.
“We have gotten some money from the USDA and private sources,” Miller said.
She said the center received a Department of Agriculture Garden Grant that totals about $14,000.
Miller said the center will host an open house in January or February to invite the community to have input on what the developing gardens will have in each space.
“What would make you want to be in this space?” said Miller. “Do you want more seating, shade, food production or bees?
Upcoming volunteer days are 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Nov. 29 and 1-3 p.m. Dec. 6 and Dec. 10 at the center.
Those interested in volunteering can email Fuentes at firstname.lastname@example.org or student success Coordinator Joseph Liedecke at email@example.com for service-learning opportunities.
Visit www.gardens.ecocentrosatx.org to find out more information on the gardens.