The Secret Garden

Alum teams up with the College to grow organic vegetables for campus meals

Matt Olson

Matt Olson '05

Across the street from the main campus, 26 acres of woods and pastures surround a farmhouse that is home to the marketing and public relations staff - and a secret garden surrounded by stone walls. Just behind one of the farmhouse's attached barns, a vast array of herbs and vegetables ripen in the late summer sun - all thanks to Matthew Olson '05, who is growing the produce for Bon Appétit, the College's food vendor.

Now that the hard digging is done, Olson weeds, waters and watches over 40 heads of garlic, 12 varieties of tomatoes, 15 types of lettuce and greens, squash, peppers, fresh herbs, peas, beans, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and root vegetables.

“It's hard to gauge the yields. But we write the menu around what Matt's got coming in.”
— Stuart Leckie, General Manager, Bon Appétit

Last summer, Olson grew organic vegetables on a smaller plot at a friend's house and sold some of his yield to Bon Appétit, which endorses locally grown food and sustainable farming. When Olson resurfaced this year wanting land to expand his operation, Stuart Leckie, general manager of Bon Appétit's food service on campus, noticed his passion for the project. "He was in the right place at the right time, and I pushed to let us use the land," says Leckie.

Olson rototilled the overgrown field, sometimes busting it up with a pitchfork. To build up the soil, he used sheep manure, bone meal, dried blood and even alpaca waste from the herd that lived on the property before. He started a compost pile and got the maintenance department to donate grass clippings from the campus lawns for use as mulch.

garden

Eat local produce? “You can’t get much closer than here,” says campus gardener Matthew Olson ’05, of Naples, Maine, who is shown teaching ecology students enrolled in the May semester about the environmental importance of eating food grown locally.

An environmental science major, Olson, says organic food isn't just better for health reasons, it keeps fertilizers from washing into the rivers and it improves the soil and even the worms (which, in turn, aerate the soil and help the crops grow better).

The campus garden helped to feed this year's summer students, and the fall harvest is coming up. Olson, who grew up nearby in Windham, used to visit the so-called Gowen property with his mother when he was young. Ironically, the land where he now grows food was operating as a farm when Saint Joseph's moved to Standish in 1956.

Olson hopes he can plant the garden again next year. After all, he won't have to turn over the ground from scratch and the soil will already be enriched.

Now if he can just get the neighborhood woodchuck to move to another town.