Campus Politics

After Seven Years, UP Students Dump SLUG Garden For Good

University of Portland’s Student Led Unity Garden (SLUG) is overgrown with weeds and dying from a lack of attention. After seven years of volunteer work, this year may be its last. SLUG’s advisor, Professor Bard, discusses the group’s struggle for consistent leadership and lack of support from the community. SLUG’s situation may reflect a recent global concern for Nature Deficit Disorder.

University of Portland’s Student Led Unity Garden (SLUG) is overgrown with weeds and dying from a lack of attention. After seven years of volunteer work, this year may be its last. SLUG’s advisor, Professor Bard, discusses the group’s struggle for consistent leadership and lack of support from the community. SLUG’s situation may reflect a recent global concern for Nature Deficit Disorder.

BY MARAYA H. SULLIVAN

January 27, 2015

UP’s website might need a status update. According to the University’s website,  “in addition to providing organic fruits, veggies, herbs & flowers, the garden aims to help build a relationship between students, their food, the environment, and the surrounding North Portland community.”  However, due to a lack of attraction, as well as a lack of leadership, the Student Led Unity Garden has nothing to offer the community this year.

SLUG sprouted in 2007 when a mandala design was selected for the shape of the garden. Students launched an effort to raise money for soil, organic seeds, hand tools, and soaker hoses. UP freshmen and the Moreau Center hosted a “Building Community Day”, during which a sign was added to the garden.

In 2010, the garden experienced a dramatic expansion. SLUG was given new land on N. Warren St. to grow food for families in need, and to help fulfill SLUG’s original goal, to reach out to the greater North Portland community. However, Professor Ray Bard will retire this year leaving the garden with zero support from faculty in the future.

Bard remembers the faculty and staff donating money and getting involved. One summer, he recalled students donating almost six hundred pounds worth of vegetables to a local food bank.

“There was a lot of student leadership, and there was a lot of encouragement and support from the community,” Bard said. Now, he notices a lack of attraction and solidification, potential warning signs of what author Richard Louv calls Nature Deficit Disorder.

Louv coined the term in his 2005 book The Last Child In the Woods and sparked a global debate . Nature Deficit Disorder is arguably the root cause of many problems in today’s youth. The booming growth of the Industrial Revolution, as well as the rise and rush of technology has pushed humans further and further away from their natural environments.

According  to the UN, as a result of rapid urbanization, already 50% of the world’s population lives in cities and 70% are predicted to live in cities by the year 2050. However, most Western medicine rejects the legitimacy of this disorder; choosing to prescribe antidepressants over a refreshing hike in Mother Nature.

Although not yet an official medical term, Nature Deficit Disorder describes physical and psychological symptoms that humans experience as a result of separation from nature. Symptoms can include: depression, anxiety, obesity, and attention disorders.

Portland’s Parks and Recreation Department is concerned with the prevalence of Nature Deficit Disorder in Portland’s youth. Their mission: to have as many people as possible living within a half-mile walking distance to a park in Portland.

“When we plan for new parks, we talk to the youth; we connect with principals to set up workshops in which kids draw ideas and take surveys,” said Brett Horner, Manager of Planning Development and Assets for Portland’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Nature Deficit Disorder is a common term amongst faculty members at UP, especially those whose departments revolve around nature.

Dr. Gregory Hill, Associate Professor for Environmental Studies at UP, is familiar with the term. He was fascinated by a survey that found that the average American could identify more than one thousand corporate logos or brands, but only knew ten species of plants. In response, Hill traveled to three poor countries to research how rural cultures with minimal access to technology kept such a close connection and relationship to the earth.

Hill discovered, “Ecological knowledge is passed down through generations by oral tradition.”

Carvel Cook, foreman of UP’s Grounds, is the most familiar with UP’s natural territory and notices that students are distracted from the earth and each other by technology. When asked about his experience of Nature Deficit Disorder at UP, he said, “I’m old as dirt, but from my perspective I see students walking around campus and texting, not talking…nowadays students have no interpersonal skills.”

In regards to SLUG Garden, Bard said, “There’s a need for it, it’s a way to connect with the community.” He predicts that the SLUG garden space will close this year and be used to build more student-housing facilities, given the recent spike in student population and extended doubles.

A dream once in full bloom at UP is now likely to be uprooted. In the spirit of students seven years ago, famous actress Audrey Hepburn once said, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”

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