Penn Student Eco Reps Dig Deep for Apple Day of Service Project

On a peerless fall Saturday, 32 of the University of Pennsylvania’s student Eco Reps took up rakes, shovels and shears to aide Bartram’s Garden in Southwest Philadelphia.

The environmental service project marked the kick-off event for the newly appointed Eco Reps. Penn’s Eco-Rep environmental leadership program engages students, faculty and staff in raising awareness of environmental issues and supporting the University’s environmental goals and Climate Action Plan across campus, and in this case beyond.  

Bartram’s Garden is the oldest surviving botanic garden in North America and a designated National Historic Landmark. Located on the west bank of the Schuylkill River, the garden and arboretum cover 46 acres and were the 18th-century home of John Bartram, naturalist, botanist and explorer.

Student Eco-Reps represent College Houses, Greek chapters, athletics teams and Hillel. Freshman Charlotte Coran of Philadelphia is a Greek Eco Rep from Chi Omega. She started the day thinning the raspberry thicket in the northern-most part of the 3.5-acre Community Farm and Food Resource Center at Bartram’s. The Eco Reps worked alongside volunteers from John Bartram High School and members of Camp Sojourner, a leadership program for girls. The volunteers spent several hours weeding, planting, composting, mulching and clearing garden debris.

The thorny work tending the raspberry bushes had its advantages.

“We get to eat the berries,” said Coran.

The berry team was, however, quick to share the bounty with their peers in the community garden in the lower field. About 20 reps and volunteers worked there to clear the common paths separating 50 community plots. The tough physical task involved cutting through thick matted crab grass, digging out the heavy grassy clumps of dirt, piling the refuse into wheelbarrows and carting it to the compost pile.

The Eco Rep service project involved several partners.

“This year we partnered with the U.S. Green Building Council’s Center for Green Schools as part of the national Apple Day of Service,” said Julian Goresko sustainability student outreach associate from Penn’s Green Campus Partnership. “In seeking a way for our University Eco-Reps to work with the high school or grade school students, we found an ideal partner in the Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative, which run the Community Farm and Food Center at Bartram’s Garden.”

AUNI is a program of the Netter Center for Community Partnerships at Penn. It’s mission is to engage, educate and empower youth, University students and community members to promote healthy lifestyles and build a just and sustainable food system.

AUNI has strong ties to Bartram’s Garden where it oversees the Community Farm and Food Resource Center. AUNI maintains the berry patch and community garden, as well as an urban crop farm and greenhouse at the site. Each Thursday, AUNI organizes a farmers’ market on the site, and there is a monthly volunteer workday during the growing season.

“The farm is a big part of our mission,” said Ty Holmberg of AUNI. “In our first year at the farm, powered by 26 local high school paid interns, we have produced over 7,500 pounds of food and hosted 1800 volunteers.”

Eco Rep Caroline White, a junior computer engineering major from San Jose, Calif., was among those working in the crop garden. White lives in Kings College House and serves on the executive board of the environmental student group at Penn. She helped clear and till the vegetable beds and plant fall crops of lettuce, arugula and broccoli.

“It’s amazing to discover this spot just steps from Penn Park and the University,” she said.

Penn junior Sara Allan agreed.

“I most enjoyed spending so much of the day outside, something I rarely get to do when immersed in classes. I loved discovering Bartram's and feeling like we weren't even in a city. It was great to see how many different groups collaborated to make the day a success.”

Allan is an environmental studies major from New York City and works as the sustainability intern with the Green Campus Partnership. She is on the varsity gymnastics team at Penn and is starting her third year as an Eco Rep representing Athletics.

The University of Pennsylvania Eco-Reps program is organized by sustainability staff in Facilities and Real Estate Services and is an initiative of the Green Campus Partnership, an umbrella group of students, faculty, staff and community members that promotes sustainable practices and policies on campus.

The Community Farm and Food Resource Center program partners include AUNI, Bartram’s Garden, the City of Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.

View photos from the Apple Day of Service here.