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Duke and John Deere push sustainability

Duke has partnered with John Deere to enhance campus sustainability efforts.

The University is supporting two outdoor locations—Smart-Sustainable Landscapes garden and the Charlotte Brody Children’s Discovery Garden—as part of the Sustainable Site Initiative, a new program testing the nation’s first rating system for sustainable landscape, design and maintenance. John Deere has supported these efforts by providing about $400,000 for site renovations, including landscaping, building a greenhouse and implementing environmentally-friendly equipment. Pilot programs that have applied for certification are expected to hear feedback from SITES—another name for the Sustainable Site Initiative—by the end of June.

“This is a great opportunity [for Duke] to be a leader in sustainability on the global level,” said Jim Gaston, director of the Home Depot Smart Home and a volunteer with the Smart-Sustainable Landscapes garden. “Through the involvement in the pilot program and the corresponding initiatives to make Duke more sustainable, we are really setting ourself apart and establishing the University as a forerunner in this area.”

Smart-Sustainable Landscapes—located near the Smart Home—was formerly the Duke Community Garden.

SITES—a partnership of the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin and the United States Botanic Garden—accepted over 150 projects for the two-year pilot program from June 2010 to June 2012 from 34 states—including six locations in North Carolina—as well as from Canada, Iceland and Spain. Feedback from the pilot program will be used to refine the final rating system and provide examples of achievable sustainability goals, Gaston noted.

“When John Deere was looking for a site to jumpstart the project, [the Smart Home] seemed perfect for the purpose of the pilot program... and its ideas coincided with the format of a living-learning laboratory,” Gaston said.

Several of the projects sparked by the pilot program were designed to be receptive to community input, Gaston said, by providing an open canvas that students can modify and design easily. He added that he hopes University students will take the reins in carrying out most of the projects in the spirit of the living learning laboratory.

Nearby, the Brody Discovery Garden—the educational space within the Sarah P. Duke Gardens that will be completed by the end of the summer—has also incorporated several sustainable highlights, said Janice Little, director of education and public programs at Duke Gardens. These project will include two cisterns to reuse rainwater to care for the plants and produce, chickens for pest control and a barn built from salvaged wood from a century-old farm in Nash County, N.C.

Through these initiatives, Little noted that homeowners who visit the Brody Discovery Garden will be able to apply some of these methods to their personal property, bringing visitors’ experiences full circle.

“The active approach to this program allows visitors and volunteers to engage in all aspects,” Little said.

Despite the innovative nature of the project, both spaces echo the spirit of an old-fashioned community garden, said senior Emily McGinty, manager of the Smart-Sustainable Landscapes garden.

“The Duke Community Garden served its purpose in that it was a space that sparked creativity in the spirit of experimentation,” she said. “I hope that we will re-foster that kind of energy, drawing people from all quarters of the community.”

McGinty noted that since the inception of the initiative, there has been a noticeable increase in volunteers from both the Duke and Durham communities.

“On many levels, [Duke] has a lot of the same qualities that a typical city has—we have people with great ideas that yield many opportunities,” Gaston added. “Some of these decisions [in favor of sustainability] are the ones that have made Duke the leader it is, especially in creating new technologies.”

Correction: Janice Little's quote has been changed to more accurately reflect her view of the growing sustainability in the Brody Discovery Garden. The Chronicle regrets the error.

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