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Honors student explores "Positive Growth" through Sustainable Carolina Garden

December 12, 2019 | Alexandria Nowicki,

An excerpt from Honors student Alexandria Nowicki's descriptive writing assignment entitled, "Positive Growth":

"In a city, one doesn’t picture green space and Mother Nature tucked around every corner, begging to be explored. Columbia, South Carolina is an outlier. Nestled between two very bland, very ordinary buildings, a pocket of life awaits. Sections of earth are overridden with diverse vegetation, and yet some sit completely empty, just lonely patches of dry soil amidst the agricultural chaos and disorder. A bulky greenhouse lies off to the side, its metal and machinery out of place in the otherwise natural environment. A murmur of traffic can be heard in the distance, only made noticeable with an occasional honk or squeal. A sidewalk winds through the Sustainable Carolina garden, slicing through the greenery to make way for hurried students weighed down by backpacks and responsibilities. They overlook the beauty that surrounds them, too distracted by the breakneck pace of daily life.

These individuals fail to discover the overgrown path of stones that weaves through the plots of land, marked by a wooden archway of sturdy branches. They remain oblivious to the wild boughs and entangled vines that reach out, not to block off, but to motion them into a secret sanctuary. They ignore the air, thick and sweet, heavy with the scent of herbs wafting through the Southern humidity. They do not notice how the stems and branches sway and wave in the gentle breeze, dancing to the tune of the rustling leaves, or how the sunlight dapples the garden’s depths, creating everchanging patterns on its grassy floor. Much of the plant life appears barren and wilted, sporting dull shades of green and brown, but if one looks close enough, they will find pops of vibrancy and color amidst the weeds, tended to by buzzing insects and chirping birds. The garden is alive.

At first glance, the garden seems to be neglected by all, as if it has been untouched by the hands of humanity for several years. However, Kylie Wallace, the garden’s internal operations coordinator and a junior here at USC, explained just how much hard work actually goes into maintaining the space, citing weeding as one of her team’s biggest obstacles. Harvesting, sheet mulching, and planting all fall under the list of garden duties as well, along with the implementation of farming techniques like hydroponics and permaculture. Local companies purchase the produce regularly; professors and students alike take advantage of horticultural research opportunities. Kylie pointed out that the garden is for Columbia as a whole, with community members regularly dropping by to say their hellos to both the volunteers and the flora. Long story short, the garden is getting plenty of love from plenty of people.

This sense of community and connection runs through the volunteers, linking them all in an intangible yet palpable way. Their shared commitment and passion enable them to work toward common goals while breaking down barriers of insecurity. One naturally feels more welcomed and less judged by people who have similar interests and priorities. The garden brings together individuals who appreciate nature and want to make the earth a better place, whether they are conscious of it or not. Kylie revealed that many of the Sustainable Carolina members first volunteered in the garden for service hours but then decided to make their involvement permanent. “…there’s something very- what’s the word- cathartic about just being outside and in the sunshine.” Kylie spoke with her hands, gesturing to emphasize each word. From her perspective, this feeling of trust takes root in everyone that has had a garden experience.

Being a part of the garden community seemingly unlocks an internal floodgate within each and every member. “…the garden is a safe space and people will get randomly really personal with you… there’s a lot of deep conversations in the garden,” Kylie smiled to herself, as though she were recalling a memory of her own. The fact that confiding in strangers is a common occurrence testifies to the power of the garden’s influence. The simple work being carried out (along with the foundation of kinship and trust) offers a form of therapy for those who partake in it, clearing their minds and empowering their thoughts to become actual conversation.

A truly clear mind can only come from undivided focus. The garden encourages authenticity and direct connection even more through its no phone policy. “You can’t have your phone while you’re out there, so you’re kind of forced to be present,” Kylie casually mentioned, but this discipline is absent in most aspects of modern day culture, making the garden a unique and effective retreat from usual stressors and social obstacles. A disconnect from technology facilitates more genuine, face-to-face connection, leading to those close-knit relationships and communities.

Break away from rigid routine and embrace spontaneity. Trade virtual realities and relationships for real ones. Discover emotional, introspective opportunities in ordinary experiences. Appreciate true bonds and beautiful simplicity. Yes, the garden utilizes advanced sustainable practices and spreads environmental awareness, but it provides much deeper experiences for those who stop and smell the roses, rather than just brushing past them on the way to class."

Learn more about how to get involved with the Sustainable Carolina Garden.

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.