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IU Northwest converts vacant lot into community garden

Beautification effort was idea of SPEA students, made possible by community partners

IU Northwest file photo
IU Northwest faculty, staff, students, and family members stand gathered in the Community Garden that they helped to create this spring at the south end of campus.

An idea originally conceived out of a class project of Indiana University Northwest students has come to fruition in recent weeks as community and university members partnered to create the IU Northwest Community Garden.

The group has transformed a vacant lot on the campus grounds into a blossoming array of colorful native plants and vegetables, now growing in 12 boxes located on the southwest side of the Gary campus, behind the university’s Lindenwood Hall.

 The endeavor started with students in a class taught by Associate Professor of Public and Environmental Affairs Ellen Szarleta, J.D., Ph.D. The assignment was for student teams to create a project based on sustainable development principles, improving the social, environmental and economic well-being of the community. One project team, consisting of Carli Demeter, Stephanie McFadden, Michael Wineland, Megan Doughty and Erika Hanrahan developed the plan for the garden.  

Inspired by their ingenuity, Szarleta rallied the help of faculty, staff, students and community partners to make their vision a reality. The community garden planning group worked through the spring semester, identifying a garden space and developing partnerships.  With funding from the Student Activities Fund, the group purchased materials for and began work constructing the boxes early this summer. 

Established as truly a ‘community’ garden, the project was supported by partners County Line Orchard and Luke Oil, both of which donated a rain barrel to be used as a water source for the plants. Further involving the community, the planter boxes are maintained by various community groups that have each adopted a box. Those partners include, Tsataros Law Firm, Habitat for Humanity, Bridgette Kelly Youth Foundation, IU Northwest Geosciences Department, the IU Northwest School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA), the IU Northwest Library and various SPEA alumni.

Each box is an expression of the adopter’s vision of a community garden.  Some organizations decided to plant boxes full of vegetables, while others planted flowers or mixed boxes of flowers and vegetables. There is a community herb garden box that features common and exotic herbs including basil, oregano, fennel, cilantro and curry. Szarleta says a portion of harvest yielded from the garden will be donated to various community organizations including shelters and a food pantry.

The community garden planning group hopes to adapt the space into another campus common area, a place where the campus community can come and rest and enjoy the outdoors. Szarleta also envisions it as an appealing outdoor classroom and meeting place for environmental-related classes and community seminars.

For information about IU Northwest’s Community Garden, contact Szarleta at (219) 980-6698.


Media Contact

Emily Banas
Office of Marketing and Communications

Erika Rose
Office of Marketing and Communications

Additional Article Photos

IU Northwest file photo
Retired IU Northwest registrar Peter Kesheimer (center) joins other students and staff members in checking on the garden’s tomatoes.

Photo provided
Construction began on the IU Northwest Community Garden in May.