Mavericks prepare to plan(t) MSU’s fresh produce

Welcome to April, Mavericks!

The final month of the spring semester is here and Minnesota State students are preparing for any final upcoming assignments, tests and projects. But other students have started preparing and planning for a different reason: the Maverick Food Garden’s third growing season for the upcoming summer.

MSU students gathered in the Women’s Center on Thursday afternoon and began planning the garden with MSU Women’s Center Director Liz Steinborn-Gourley leading the meeting. 

Steinborn-Gourley said the Maverick Food Pantry started in 2020 and evolved and changed shape from boxes of prepackaged allotment of food to more of a store kind of style. 

“I was volunteering there and I was seeing some of the produce that we were getting was really kind of sad,” Steinborn-Gourley said. “So I consider gardening kind of a radical act, like knowing where your food comes from and having a hand and growing it and recognizing there’s students who feel similarly and so we started the Maverick Food Garden in 2021.”

Located on the south side of Carkoski Commons, the Maverick Food Garden provides fresh produce for the Maverick Food Pantry, which in turns provides food to food-insecure students, further helping food insecurities on campus.

Steinborn-Gourley said that the garden is expected to be ready around mid-June and early July, with volunteers “getting in the garden much more in April.”

With the opinion of students, Steinborn-Gourley said it helps find out what type of produce MSU students would like to see in this year’s growing season and how they can plan accordingly. 

“We don’t want to plant something that everyone hates. But we want to student buy-in because students are the ones doing the work of maintaining and keeping up the garden, and we reflect back on what worked the previous years and what didn’t.”

Steinborn-Gourley said they learned that, if beans are planted too soon, they can attract beetles, and beetles and other pests have to be managed.

“We’ve learned to plant those later,” she said. “The planning part is really purposeful. And when you look at the history of agriculture and growing things on purpose, having a plan is really critical.”

In addition to student collaboration, Steinborn-Gourley listed Echo Food Shelf and Valley Veggies around Mankato as providers for the Maverick Food Garden, with Valley Veggies providing basil, pea plants, flowers and herbs that help them start off strong. 

Steinborn-Gourley said the Maverick Food Garden is working with community engagement to help manage volunteers over the summer. Students wishing to get involved can register through MavCentral. 

“We need people to pick beetles off; we don’t use any pesticides and herbicides. We pull weeds and pick bugs all summer long. I do think whenever you say that there’s volunteer opportunities, we get a big influx of students because tons of students have different volunteer responsibilities,” Steinborn-Gourley said. “We’ll do some dreaming and scheming and come up with some ideas together and we’ll do some research on all those to figure out how we provide instructions to our volunteers.”

Overall with the teamwork created within the Maverick Food Garden’s planning and prepping, Steinborn-Gourley said that helping out with the food garden provides “a lot of benefits.” 

“Fresh produce; we literally pick it and walk it over to the refrigerator in the food pantry so it doesn’t get much fresher than that unless you’re eating it while you’re harvesting. It’s incredibly fresh. All the good vitamins and minerals that you would need for a well balanced diet.” she said. 

Steinborn-Gourley also said that another benefit to student volunteers is learning about where their food comes from and how to prepare it.

“Another huge benefit to students is knowing that you don’t have to be a farmer to grow something edible. So a big lesson we try to teach is that if you have a pot and some sunshine, you can grow food that you can eat and cook in your own home and that’s really freeing,” Steinborn-Gourley. “It’s nice to run out to the garden and grab some basil as opposed to having to run to the grocery store and pay $4 for the basil that flew in from California, like our footprint as consumers shrinks greatly when we’re able to produce some of the things that we consume.”

For more information about the Maverick Food Garden, contact Liz Steinborn-Gourley at elizabeth.steinborn-gourley@mnsu.edu 

Write to Anahi Zuniga at anahi.zuniga@mnsu.edu

Header Photo: Pictured is the Maverick Food Garden from 2023. This year’s garden will be ready for picking by mid-June and early July. (Courtesy maverickfoodgarden Instagram)

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