Bananas growing in a third-court alcove, baby figs sprouting behind Hamilton “Ham” Center, pomegranates hanging over a Four Winds picnic table; these are all rarely noticed evidence of a larger trend on campus for edible, fruit-bearing plants.
As far back as 1948, twelve years prior to New College’s establishment, a grove of citrus plants graced the southern side of Dort Promenade, in front of College Hall. Planted by the Ringling family, these trees were soon removed because their location – close to the bay and prone to flooding – was not ideal for citrus plant varieties.
Since New College’s inception as a school, there have been many varied attempts and successes at implementing an edible landscape.
Jono Miller, adjunct professor of environmental studies and assistant to the vice president of finance and administration, has been observing the New College landscape and environment for almost 40 years. Through his personal blog, Miller observes plants and wildlife on campus, often updating about trees that have ripening fruits. Miller works with the Landscape Committee and has a vested interest in New College’s natural flora and fauna.
The Council of Green Affairs (CGA) and the Landscape Committee deal with introducing edible plants on campus. The Landscape Committee must also approve any student requests to plant a tree on campus. At the Landscape Meeting on Sept. 19, students and faculty met to discuss current landscape concerns and requests on campus.
“More edible plants has always been a top request by the students, but I think that students underestimate how many are already present,” Landscape Representative and third-year Ethan Fenner said.
CGA vice-president Niko Segal-Wright has personally planted many of the fruit trees that students may find on campus, including the six young trees between Ham and second court. In order to get a tree planted, students must submit a request to the Landscape Committee. Requests must include the specific location pinpointed on a map or photograph, the variety of tree or shrub and how the student plans to care for it. Trees also have to be named varieties from grafted stock, not grown from a leftover fruit pit.
Through the CGA, Segal-Wright and other council members consider benefits and costs of planting fruit trees around campus.
“It’s important to start considering land as something that’s productive,” Segal-Wright said. “We consider now that land is something we pay for and live on, something we consume, but I think land should be something we can grow things on.”
While the CGA has no current plans to plant more trees on campus, it encourages students to gain permission to plant trees and continue taking care of the ones that exist.
Two main issues have faced landscape coordinators and CGA members when it comes to planting fruit trees: young trees require a great amount of care and students often pick fruit too often or before it ripens.
“In Sarasota, when you plant a tree you have to plan on watering it for two years, especially if there’s a drought, but students will plant a tree and either graduate or leave for break or forget about it,” Miller said. “We’ve had a lot of mortality of those fruit trees.”
One solution would require a student teaching assistant (T.A.) to stay in Sarasota during holiday breaks to check on young trees around campus and ensure that they are properly watered and pruned. Segal-Wright envisioned that a student could water the various trees on campus and also maintain the gardens and compost throughout the summer. Money would have to be allocated from student funds for such a position.
“If we really want to have an edible campus, it would require some kind of concerted student effort,” Segal-Wright said. “We would need to be doing minor maintenance on the trees and fertilizing them.”
Miller cited the “Tragedy of the Commons” by Garrett Hardin to explain the problem of every student wanting fruit from the campus trees. Often students choose to pick unripe fruits in order to ensure that someone else does not get them first. This effectively eliminates everyone’s reward.
This past summer, the mango trees behind the Four Winds were picked bare as soon as their fruit ripened. Miller suggested installing a camera to monitor these particular trees or implementing an honor system with a sign requesting every student to only take one fruit at a time.
There are fruit trees of many varieties around campus, ensuring that every student can have a chance to pick their favorite fresh fruit. Segal-Wright insisted that everyone wait until plants are ripe to pick so that everyone can enjoy the produce.
“If you are picking fruit on campus, be really careful not to pick before it’s ripe,” Segal-Wright said. “That’s the main problem we’ve had.”
While some plants can be found in the Pei courts, many have been removed by Physical Plant. Student plants that do not receive permission from the Landscape Committee may be removed at any time. The Landscape Committee frequently rejects requests to plant near dormitories because fallen fruits that rot may attract cockroaches, raccoons, rodents or other pests. Fruit trees in close proximity to dorms raise the likelihood of an infestation.
“There’s been an interest in keeping fruit trees away from the residence halls whereas the students would like to be able to reach out their balcony and pick something,” Miller said.
Ninety percent of fruit trees on campus are concentrated in three main locations: the Caples garden, around Four Winds and behind Dortstein. Due to Segal-Wright’s planting, there
is also a growing population
surrounding Ham. Other plants are littered around campus, from star fruits to mangoes to ice cream beans
While maps outlining the specific types and locations of the campus fruit trees have circulated in past years, none are currently accessible for student use. Until a new map is made, the best adventure is to explore campus with a keen eye and find a sweet reward at the end of the search.
Any student who wishes to get involved can attend CGA and Landscape Committee meetings or individually submit a request to plant a tree. Miller encourages students to keep an eye out for campus flora and fauna and submit pictures to his blog at