skip to main content

UMW Campus Community Garden celebrates inauguration

UMW News Bureau

The Montana Western Campus Community Garden held an inauguration and poetry reading on Thursday, Sept. 8 to commemorate and showcase the new garden, which now features integrated renewable energy systems. UMW NEWS BUREAU [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="400" caption="The brand new Montana Western Campus Community Garden greenhouse with integrated solar and wind energy systems."]garden[/caption] Just two years after its humble beginnings as a handful of garden plots and a composting pit on the edge of the University of Montana Western campus, the Montana Western Campus and Community Garden is now a full-fledged garden complete with integrated renewable energy systems, two brand new greenhouses, a native plant trail and over 20 plots producing a variety of fruits and vegetables. Garden organizers held an inauguration and poetry reading on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011 to commemorate and showcase the new garden and greenhouse, which is now powered by energy captured from the sun and wind. “This garden is designed to be an educational resource for our students and the community as a whole as well as a source for sustainable local food,” the garden’s director and Montana Western Associate Professor of Environmental Sciences Linda Lyon stated. “The inauguration is a chance for us to show off the garden and celebrate local food and all the hard work our team has done to make this garden what it is today.”

The Garden

Located on a small hill on the east edge of campus, the garden provides community plots and a campus plot that provides both Montana Western Dining Services and local farmer’s market patrons with fresh chemical-free produce. The new greenhouses and renewable energy systems are also intended to provide multidisciplinary learning opportunities for students and surrounding community members. The garden’s growth has been made possible through the work of Lyon and her students and through volunteers from Montana Campus Compact and the Montana Energy Corps. Tom Wagenknecht, a UMW graduate in geology and sustainable resource management, is just wrapping up a two-year program with Montana Energy Corps based out of Dillon. A program of AmeriCorps, Energy Corps is administered and managed through the National Center for Appropriate Technology. Through Energy Corps, Wagenknecht has been instrumental in establishing the community garden through the planning and construction of greenhouses and the planning of the off-grid energy system. The program also stresses public education about sustainability, renewable energy options and other energy and resource issues. “More opportunities are available,” Wagenknecht explained. “But you need funding to get any of this off the ground. Just being able to educate people on these topics is very valuable.” [caption id="" align="alignright" width="400" caption="Chris Guttenberg prepares the greenhouse's wind turbine for installation."]_MG_6427[/caption] Throughout the summer Wagenknecht partnered with former Montana Western industrial technologies instructor Chris Guttenberg to build a passive solar greenhouse designed to serve as year-round growing space. Guttenberg is a Montana Western alumnus currently pursuing a Master of Science Degree in Appropriate Technology from Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C. As part of his studies Guttenberg is conducting research based upon next-generation workforce and curriculum development drawing from the physical and social sciences as well as engineering, architecture, and technology. “Our collective effort this summer has been to begin generating a multidisciplinary facility through which teaching and learning can coincide with Montana Western’s mission to uphold the principles of sustainability and environmental responsibility,” Guttenberg explained. The larger of the two greenhouses, built with 80 percent recycled materials, houses a 600-watt photovoltaic array, a small-scale 500-watt wind turbine, a DC-to-AC power inverter and real-time data logging and analysis connectivity. A 48-volt battery bank will store the energy required to power loads dedicated to ventilation, lighting and hydroponics pumping within the greenhouse. Wagenknecht and Guttenberg designed the space by blending both active and passive mechanisms in hopes of keeping the greenhouse at a temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter. In the cooler months sunshine will fill the growing space whereas, in summertime, only half of the room is exposed to direct sun.

Garden Education

This summer Lyon and her crew also welcomed Leah Grunzke to campus and the garden. Grunzke will serve as a caretaker for the garden and also will be coordinating the garden’s campus and community education efforts. Grunzke graduated from Montana State University in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in horticulture systems with a focus on small-scale sustainable urban agriculture. After college she moved to Missoula where she managed the Montana Natural History Center’s native plant teaching garden, which served children and adults. The native plant demonstration garden program specifically targeted low-income and at-risk youth. Her contributions to the program included education on pollinator conservation, water conservation and backyard wildlife. [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="400" caption="Leah Grunzke takes her first tour of the garden."]_MG_6416[/caption] Grunzke came to Montana Western through an AmeriCorps’ VISTA program, which seeks to alleviate poverty and promote food security, and also through Food Corps, which works to address childhood obesity through school garden and Farm to School service. In 2011, Food Corps placed nine individuals in small towns throughout Montana. Education will be the focus of Grunzke’s one-year tenure at Montana Western and she plans to involve Dillon’s middle school students as well as Montana Western students. “I would really like to see the campus students get involved,” she explained. “I want to get students working with kids in the community and helping to run spring and summer educational programs.” Grunzke said educators often have a difficult time connecting curriculum to state and national science standards and hopes to help design curriculum centered around the garden that would meet national teaching standards. During the slower winter months she plans to establish a nutrition education program.


The  Sept. 8 inauguration of the Montana Western Community Garden featured a visit by the University of Montana’s Joshua Slotnick. Slotnick manages Missoula’s PEAS Farm, which is operated under a partnership between the University of Montana Environmental Studies Program, the Missoula Food Bank and Garden City Harvest. The event was free and open to the public and also featured an open poetry session, which was kicked off by poet, local musician and Montana Western Professor of English Roger Dunsmore. The Montana Western Campus Garden is located on the east end of Cornell Street just east of Clark Hall.