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'It feels really good to be outside': Rooftop garden offers a natural community space on West Campus

Grainger Hall’s newly renovated rooftop garden provides a scenic gathering spot where students can connect with nature and foster sustainability.

The LEED Platinum-certified Grainger Hall, which houses the Nicholas School of the Environment, was constructed with a state-of-the-art green design that includes its “green roof.” After the renovation this past summer, the space features an interactive and educational space along with community garden plots.

“It feels really good to be outside, and it grounds you so much,” junior Avery Indermaur said of the garden. 

Indermaur is president of the Green Roof and Orchard Workforce (GROW), which maintains the rooftop garden. She emphasized the way the garden builds community, stating that it provides a space “to study, hang out, relax and get a break from the stressful stuff that happens on the five floors below.”

The interactive and educational half of the rooftop gives visitors the opportunity to touch and smell plants. It also features a seating area where students can relax or study. 

The other half of the garden is mostly divided into community plots, where students can join groups to care for specific plants. 

Gardening is “a lot easier to maintain this way,” Indermaur said, as groups are responsible for the health of a plant instead of individuals. 

The garden grows many food items, including herbs such as lavender, rosemary, sage, thyme and basil and vegetables such as kale, cabbage, collard greens, chard and onions. 

Indermaur remarked that food generally grows well on the roof but “root vegetables are hard because the soil isn’t that deep.”

The renovation was designed by GROW’s faculty adviser, Nicolette Cagle, who is a lecturer in environmental science and policy in the Nicholas School.

Indermaur said that Nancy Kelly, director of community engagement and events at the Nicholas School, and Kevin Smith, assistant dean of IT and facilities management at the school, were also supportive of GROW’s vision for the garden. 

Community is not the only benefit—the garden also makes Grainger more sustainable. According to the building’s buildingOS page, the building’s roof helps reduce the “heat island effect.”

“Impervious surfaces capture a lot of heat, so when you have something like a shingled roof or a concrete roof, it absorbs a lot of heat and makes cities a lot warmer,” Indermaur explained. In contrast, vegetation “uses the heat and then disperses it,” cooling cities in a process called evapotranspiration. 

In addition, the green roof reduces stormwater runoff because the water is taken up by the plants instead, according to Indermaur. When it rains, the soil naturally filters out impurities. The water is then collected and used in the buildings’ plumbing and as greywater in the toilets. 

Grainger’s green roof also boasts a sheet of solar panels that provide approximately a quarter of the building’s energy needs, according to the buildingOS page.

Indermaur explained that GROW took over responsibility for the garden in 2015, in part to alleviate food insecurity among graduate students. The organization was started by graduate students in the Nicholas School, but undergraduate students are encouraged to participate.

The group’s main responsibility is to maintain the rooftop garden; however, they also try to collaborate with groups and institutions like the Wellness Center, the Divinity School and the Green Devils in order to promote sustainability and wellness, Indermaur said. In addition, they have held several workshops to educate students about the garden and teach gardening skills.

Indermaur said that the garden is available to everyone. The produce is consumed throughout the year, she said but GROW intends to have a “salad party” at the end of the season to eat the vegetables they grow.


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