Sept. 23, 2022
As the scorching sun beats down on the University of South Florida, a student-led oasis cultivates a generous mission on campus.
Located within the Botanical Gardens, the Judy Genshaft Honors College Community Garden provides students opportunities to grow fresh produce and help forge a sustainable and inclusive community through food.
The immense success of the garden’s HerdFunder page during USF Giving Week 2022 has given that community a chance to bloom.
Over the course of Giving Week, the project exceeded its goal by 14 percent, with 85 generous donors giving almost $3,000 to support the garden’s expansion.
The widespread support reflected a broader pattern for a record-breaking Giving Week, where nearly 5,000 donors funded USF initiatives, scholarships and projects that support student success. HerdFunder, USF’s crowdfunding platform, received almost $100,000 in gifts from nearly 800 donors.
The spirit of giving is embedded in the soil, as students in the accompanying Honors course donate the literal fruits (and vegetables) of their labor to USF’s Feed-A-Bull Pantry and Feeding Tampa Bay.
They are led by the president of the garden’s executive board, Kobe Phillips, and vice president, Dora Rodriguez, in working directly with the land as well as studying literature and theory.
While students do not earn academic course credit hours for their work in the garden, they can earn the 50 community service hours required to graduate with honors. Through hands-on work, students learn to think critically about community health, food sovereignty and sustainability.
The experience of tending to a sprout is one that Rodriguez describes as incredibly rewarding; she has enjoyed the trial-and-error process of working with the land to grow fruits, veggies and herbs.
But nothing comes close to the reward of learning firsthand about the impact food has on the lives of others.
“When you go to food pantries there are typically a lot of boxed and canned goods, which are great because they don’t spoil as quickly,” said Rodriguez, who completed her second semester at USF in spring 2022. “But there aren’t a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables for students who can’t afford them, so I think providing that resource is one of the most important aspects of what we do in the garden.”
Phillips has been knee-deep in the garden’s growth since the first seedling. His first semester at USF coincided with the inaugural Honors course in fall 2021, an experience that encouraged him to pursue a major in biology.
He wants the space to serve as an epicenter of support within the community — in his words, a hearth within the earth.
“One of my favorite things to teach is how the garden is centered around people and the ecosystem that we live in,” said Phillips. “It couldn’t survive if it was dependent on only one person. We rely on the community to keep it going.”
The community of generous partners and friends of USF play a crucial role in sustaining and nurturing this ecosystem. The funds raised this year will help maintain operations and expand the scope of giving by introducing new fruit and vegetable plots.
Brainstorming ways to build support, treasurer Gabriella Pfeiffer turned to her community in Wisconsin.
“I started to realize that my biggest strength was the community I already had at home,” she said. “I used Facebook to connect with people from home who then shared our cause with other people, and it blossomed from there.”
The student leaders were pleasantly surprised to see the HerdFunder page flooded with messages of support and encouragement. Many were from benefactors in Pfeiffer’s hometown, with notes reading “You go, Gabi,” and “Go, Gabi, go!”
They were also surprised to find the page had attracted more donors than they anticipated and exceeded its goal.
“We were hoping to raise enough to be able to continue to buy plants and maintain the garden, but it was amazing to see the overwhelming response we got,” said Rodriguez. “It felt great to know that people beyond our little community cared about what we were doing and found it important enough to donate.”
The board hopes the support they have received will give them the opportunity to incorporate the natural community, too. Besides additional plots for produce, Phillips is excited about using the proximity to the apiary to incorporate a pollinator garden.
“We want to expand the garden through education as well as food,” said Phillips, who spent summer 2022 researching insect behavior at Cornell University. “A garden with plants that both humans and pollinators can use would help us build a better symbiotic relationship with our natural pollinators, like honeybees.”
The widespread support the garden received over Giving Week did more than solidify plans for an expansion — it also inspired the executive board to pursue creative opportunities for future fundraisers like Giving Week.
“Exceeding our goal this year gave us a broader vision for how far we can go,” said Pfeiffer. “We’re excited to really push the boundaries in the future to promote the cycle of giving.”