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University garden thriving again after yearlong COVID shutdown

From March 2020 to this past May, the University of Wisconsin-Stout’s UW-Sprout Garden lay fallow, its once-carefully tended rows choked out by 6-foot-tall weeds. Twelve-foot-tall raspberries towered over the fence, and flowering bulbs, like garlic, overcrowded. The one-fifth acre garden on the north campus, which started in 2014, was unattended because of COVID-19 — the garden had closed with concerns for student interns’ health. “Six years of work and care was eradicated by one season of inattention,” said Arthur Kneeland, senior lecturer in the biology department.

But this summer, four student interns helped rejuvenate the garden, pulling weeds by hand and bringing the beds back to life. The garden is now thriving — vines are loaded with tomatoes and cucumbers. Lettuce varieties paint a pallet of shades of green across the ground. Kneeland, Cullen, and Natzke snacked on carrots as they stooped to identify columbine and verbena in the pollinator garden.

“We see such a variety of insects. It speaks to the health of the garden,” Cullen said. “But the competition keeps their numbers down.”
Kneeland, who also serves as the garden adviser and internship coordinator, knows the students are passionate about what they do. Averaging about 20 hours a week, they are often in the garden two or three hours by the time he arrives, he said. “The more the students do for the garden, the better. It was a daunting task getting it up and running again, but they persevered.

“So much knowledge was lost and regained,” Kneeland added. “The garden is a learning lab, where students learn more than just knowledge. It’s a great opportunity for them because of Stout’s technical components. Giving students this experience is important.”

Before COVID-19, UW-Sprout had a Community Supported Agriculture program, selling produce shares to students, faculty, and staff. Now, the garden’s main objective is to provide sustainable food and high-quality produce to students through University Dining, operating by donation while recording its interactions. Kneeland also hopes to donate to Stepping Stones in the future.

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