By Brooke Callaghan

Each intern in the Nature Academy internship program at Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum chooses a summer project to research and report on. The project culminates in a poster displayed in Matthaei’s public indoor spaces. Interns also write a blog post about their project concept or the research they’ve conducted.

As part of my internship this summer I’ve had the opportunity to be the manager of three community garden spaces located on the University of Michigan central campus. As a future dietitian hoping to promote sustainable food systems, I was excited to experience seed-to-table first hand. These gardens are located at East Quadrangle, the Ross School of Business, and the Ginsberg Center. Prior to this internship I had little exposure to gardening or farming, so every step of the process of developing these gardens was a learning opportunity.

Preparing the garden space

The first step was prepping the spaces, tilling the soil, adding new compost, and creating garden plans.

Preparing the garden space

Next, I started planting according to the planned harvest time, making sure that crops were rotated from the previous season.

Cultivating Community

In the weeks to follow I maintained the spaces, mostly weeding and watering. I watched as the seeds or small transplants I planted turned into ready-to-harvest vegetables and flowers.

I added signs describing the health benefits of the different plants, anticipating the students who would arrive this fall. They’ll enjoy these spaces and gain a taste for healthy, locally grown food. Recently I brought home a zucchini from the East Quad garden, made zucchini bread, and reflected how I had planted the seeds just seven weeks prior. This was the first time I had truly experienced seed to table, and it was really an eye-opening experience.

In the future I hope to apply the knowledge of starting and running a community garden to help increase healthy food access in communities affected by food insecurity. According to a surveying representing more than 30,000 two- and 4-year college students attending 121 colleges and universities across 26 states, it’s estimated that about half of college students experience food insecurity. 1 Although these campus gardens will not be able to provide to all students on campus, I am thankful to have been a part a small project that provides students with access to healthy food, and to have the opportunity to learn about sustainable food systems.

If you are looking to get more involved at the gardens on campus, there are volunteer opportunities throughout the rest of the summer and into the fall. For more information on how to get involved click here.

Swiss chard benefits
Zucchini bread

Brooke Callaghan, from Birmingham, Mich., graduated in May 2018 from University of Michigan with a B.A. In Environmental Science with a public health specialization. Brooke is a Campus Farm intern this summer. She’s looking forward to working with others who care about creating a more sustainable food system and engaging with members of the surrounding Ann Arbor community. Brooke begins her graduate studies at the U-M School of Public Health this fall, specializing in nutrition and dietetics. Her internship was made possible by a Heritage Seeds Project donor in support of the planting and care of the Heritage Seeds Garden at Matthaei and other gardens around campus.


  1. Brotin, K. M., & Goldrick-Rab, S. (2017). Going Without: An Exploration of Food and Housing Insecurity Among Undergraduates. Educational Researcher, 47(2), 121-133.
Brooke Callaghan
Plants in metal containers
Kale in a row
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