The Science Center courtyard is getting its very own makeover, thanks to Keene State students and faculty members.

Jacob Paquin / Photo Editor

Jacob Paquin / Photo Editor

Senior environmental studies major Mike Hunyadi said the group is trying to make the courtyard a more inviting space for all students on campus. “In my time here, I have never really seen people utilize this, and I think it has potential to be a really good spot. What we are starting here with is the garden. Last semester, we were working on this and we just started making the paths, creating the beds and then over the summer, weeds really sprouted, so we were working on pulling those and redefining the paths. And this past week, we put cardboard down on the mulch on top of that to prevent weeds again. I know there’s some more plans for working in different areas of the courtyard. One of the ideas was maybe having hammocks, which would be awesome,” Hunyadi said.

Hunyadi picked up the project from a graduate of the class of 2016 Seanna Flynn. Flynn studied environmental science and minored in geography during her time at Keene State. Though the group of students working on this project are not a recognized group through the college, Hunyadi said he would like to get there at some point.

The group works on the courtyard every Friday at noon. Hunyadi said he continues to have enough hands helping him. Hunyadi said, “I’m an RA in the LLC, so I’ve been able to advertise to my floor as well as the nature and sustainability [themed] floor. I’ve gotten decent turnout just from that, but I think last week, we had the best turnout we’ve ever had. Usually prior to that, we were getting four or five people pretty consistently, and then last week, we had seven or eight people show up which was really encouraging.”

Hunyadi said if they are able to accomplish the goal of making this space a more inviting spot, he will have a sense of pride for doing just that. He said, “I think the more that we can sort of encourage people to take pride in where they live, maybe more projects like this will start popping up.”

New Hampshire tends to get blistering cold for the winter time, which can be concerning when gardening. “We are trying to plant things that will be able to come back in the spring. Also, we work with Katie Featherston. She works in the biology department and she manages the greenhouse. I was talking to her and her assistant and they mentioned there is need for help up there too,” Hunyadi said.

Senior Greenhouse Lab Specialist for the biology department Katie Featherston began growing plants in the greenhouse about one year ago. “I started thinking about a place to put plants other than the greenhouse and I looked down in the courtyard, which has not been used for much in the past 10 plus years it was created, and I just thought that would be a place we could grow some plants. About the same time, there were several environmental studies students approaching me with an interest in permaculture, and so over time, those things kind of worked together and we saw the courtyard as a place where students could really be active and get experience with planting and learn about plants instead of it just sitting there and only used occasionally,” Featherston said.

Featherston said the plans began from a senior project by Andy Marion. She said, “They did an initial design for the courtyard and we have an unoffical group that is hopefully going to become official on campus; it’s the Gardens for Social Justice. They were interested in growing stuff down there. We had some work parties and I got a grant through the Pepsi Challenge Grant. I got $1,000 through there that we spent mostly on plants and so we removed some plants.”

She continued, “When the courtyard was initially created, it was landscaped to represent a New Hampshire landscape. It’s really nice, there’s a meadow, a granite walkway, the big rocks, they planted native trees and a lot of native plants and it’s really nice, but usually when someone landscapes, they always plant way too many plants because they want to make sure that if some die, there’s some remaining. Well everything did really well down there. We have a lot of small lists of plants and we just wanted to diversify.”

To make the space more useful for all students across campus, Featherston said there has been discussion about possibly making an outdoor classroom area or even hammocks like Hunyadi mentioned.

Another feature added to the courtyard is a compost pile. Featherston said the group is composting everything they pull up and everything that comes out of the greenhouses as well.

The courtyard will also be getting a new addition come the spring time. “I joined the New England Wild Flower Society and they have a project where they want to put two pollinator gardens in every state and I applied to be a site and we were chosen. In the spring, they are going to come put in this pollinator garden and there will be a whole workshop about it and it’ll be open to anyone who wants to come to that,” Featherston said.

Featherston said the project has been great and students are excited about it. She said, “I think it’s going strong, it has a great future. It could provide many years of things for students.”

Flynn said in a phone interview she picked up this project from a former student, Andy Marion, who initially started this all. “It was mostly just plans, so we were able to follow those plans. I was really the community organizer trying to teach people about it and getting people excited about growing plants. I came in and took Andy’s plans with two other students; it was my senior seminar project last year. We were able to get those plans in motion and actually put plants in the ground,” Flynn said.

She said the importance of this project is at an all time high and not only for ecological reasons. Flynn said, “Growing your own food and knowing how to do that is a skill that humans have been practicing since we called ourselves civilized and it’s kind of been forgotten; our food systems aren’t seen anymore.”

All students on campus being able to use this courtyard and garden is important, according to Flynn.  She said, “The idea of this garden was kind of founded on the principle of a community garden, bringing people together, so a safe space. It was built on everyone is welcome, everyone has a fair say.”

Emma Hamilton can be contacted at ehamilton@kscequinox.com