Several years ago, students in the SustainableSTATE student organization were interested in starting an outdoor garden on campus, and they approached Dr. David Kopsell, professor of horticulture at Illinois State University, about the idea.
“We discussed the pros and cons of an outdoor garden, and I suggested a standup garden unit as an alternative to grow plants indoors during the winter months for demonstration when students were on campus,” said Kopsell.
A standup garden is one that can be moved indoors or outdoors and provides gardening all year round. This is beneficial for people who are interested in gardening as a hobby, or for those who would like to grow food year-round. Kopsell first heard of the concept from The Standup Garden Company, based in New Hampshire.
The students were excited about the idea of a year-round gardening opportunity, and Kopsell helped them with the next step in the process—funding.
“I assisted the club members in drafting a funding proposal to the Student Sustainability Committee, which was funded in November of 2020 for $11,000 to purchase two new units, lights and growing supplies, and marketing signage,” Kopsell said.
The COVID-19 pandemic slowed the growth of the project, but definite progress took place over the past two years.
Elisabeth Reed, director of the Office of Sustainability, was contacted to help with the project. And because offering service-learning opportunities is important to Kopsell and Reed, they also looked to the Wonsook Kim School of Art for help.
“We worked with Archana Shekara and her Design Streak Studio students in the fall of 2021 on marketing signage and graphics. A unit with growing plants was located in the studio classroom for inspiration as the students developed their ideas, and many students commented on how valuable it was to observe a unit as they created their designs,” said Kopsell.
Shekara, associate professor in the Wonsook Kim School of Art, is the creative art director for Design Streak Studio. Design Streak offers students real-world experience working with clients on graphic design projects. It is a research-based social innovation lab focused on human-centered service design. This means it facilitates an interdisciplinary environment promoting students’ discovery and experimentation engaging in experiential and service learning.
Shekara and her students assisted with branding for the new Rolling Gardens. They helped finalize the name, proposed a tagline, and designed the logo identity. They also designed all promotional and supporting materials. The project began last fall, and the designs were finalized this spring.
“I’m not only helping the students,” said Shekara, “we collaborate and work together. As a faculty and creative director of the studio, I’m involved in the entire design process from brainstorming until execution. It was imperative that students are involved in the entire creative process and not just design a beautiful logo.”
The students played a huge part in the success of this project and each Design Streak Studio student was responsible for a different role in the process. Some worked on designing and others worked on revisions and final touches.
“I mainly worked on updating the options for the topographical pattern and working with different color variants and wood stains. I also helped come up with a good color palette and wood stain options for the Rolling Garden,” said Erica Mallek, a senior in Design Streak Studio.
“I learned a lot about what kinds of colors go with different kinds of wood stains, and we are very happy with how beautiful it came out.”
Not only did the Design Streak students get to work creatively, but they also got to learn about the impact their work with the Rolling Garden could have.
“I learned a lot about the impact that hands-on education, especially with agriculture, has, especially in this town,” said senior Amanda Haubenreiser. “It was also fun to have a garden to take care of and having the responsibility to water. I feel like I learned a lot about general information regarding plants and vegetables and how to harvest them.”
One student in the class, senior Molly Walsh, joked about her new knowledge of basil, but also said that they were able to incorporate recipes that users of the garden could use with the basil they grew from the garden.
According to Shekara, having the Rolling Garden in the classroom last fall led to conversations in class about plant life, ephemerality, dependence, and sustenance.
“Students came forward to water each week, and a few students became attached to the act of watering and felt relaxed. The smells and sight of the luscious green mixed herbs filled the Design Streak studio with energy and vibrancy. So, the project helped us all to go beyond a usual design project experience.”
Students Tony Williams and Xu Leqi added that they were able to learn about the aspect of responsibility because of the tasks that came with upkeep in the gardens, but they also agreed that this experience was very enjoyable, and they were glad to be a part of it.
According to Reed, the designs have all been finalized by Design Streak Studio and she is currently working with an outside vendor to build and apply the artwork.
One of the Rolling Gardens is now located in the Sustainability House (where the Office of Sustainability is located) and the other is being displayed in the Vrooman Commons Area in the Hewett-Manchester Residence Halls. Both have a variety of leafy greens and herbs growing in them for display.
Freshman Kati Fuchs requested the garden for Hewett-Manchester Residence Halls as part of her involvement with the Hewett-Manchester Diversity Coalition where she serves as the Sustainability Chair. Fuchs is also responsible for the upkeep of that particular Rolling Garden.
“I water, fertilize, and check the health of the plants in the Rolling Gardens. At the moment, I am working on creating a watering club so that residents can assist with the upkeep process, become an active part in supporting our mission, and gain knowledge about how to effectively care for plants,” said Fuchs.
Visit the Office of Sustainability’s website to learn more about the gardens and to reserve one for a class or event.