UIC Heritage Garden seeds conversations about culture, sustainability


The UIC Heritage Garden is planting conversation-starters on campus this summer — seedlings that have cultural roots around the world.

The garden, a sustainable education internship program, has a purpose besides growing flowers and vegetables: to prompt UIC students to think about diversity, social justice and cultural and environmental sustainability.

For the summer-long program, funded by the Office of Sustainability’s Green Fee, interns pick seeds, plant and maintain gardens on the east side of campus.

“We’re planting with meaning and intention,” says Sarah Hernandez, a graduate student in psychology and third-year garden intern leader. “Each of the plants has a cultural significance, and there are heritage practices behind their stories.”

Seedlings were chosen from the garden’s online story and recipe collections.

“We’re able to collect stories through our plants, and we want people to connect with our gardens,” says Ian Torres, an intern leader and a senior in Latino studies.

There’s a seed library — anyone can ask to use the seeds, then return new seeds from their plants for future gardens.

The garden held its first seed swap March 29 at Jane Addams Hull-House Museum with Chicago-area gardeners and community groups. The seed library’s first donation: rare seeds for black Aztec corn. Other seeds gleaned from the swap include pumpkins, tomatoes, chamomile, milkweed, sunflowers, Oaxacan green dent corn and seeds from an 800-year-old squash.

The Three Sister Plot, a tribute to sustainable indigenous cultural practices, includes three plants: corn, squash and beans.

“The corn, beans and squash together actually increase their potential to grow because corn provides space for beans to grow, the squash is a water retaining plant and the beans are like fertilizers,” says Torres. “It’s something that dates back to the Mayans and Native Americans, and it’s how a whole civilization was sustained.”

Excited to share their gardening experience, the group looks forward to starting their Green Fee-funded creative project — a traveling tool kit with seeds, gardening tools and recipe cards.

“It’ll be a one-stop-shop of the Heritage Garden that we can take with us to any educational workshop,” Hernandez says.

The interns also have high hopes for their first batch of pumpkins, as well as the other food they’ll grow and eat.

“It’s always exciting to see the plants flourish more than they did the year before,” Torres says.


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