Q&A: Candice Lawton, co-founder and vice president of UT's Project V.E.G.G.I.E

Candice Lawton is co-founder and vice president of the University of Tennessee's Project V.E.G.G.I.E (Vols Educating about Growing Gardens and Inspiring Environmentalism), centered around a community garden on campus.

How long has this been in place?

The physical garden started in May and we got official approval mid-May as well. We have an area next to one of the tennis courts on campus and sort of behind the parking garage. We are able to have a significant amount of plants growing down there—watermelon, pumpkins, peanuts, tomatoes... We wanted fruit bushes but we didn't get them in the ground in time.

Any flowers?

We're all natural and organic, so we planted certain flowers in between the rows and around the edges so we don't have to use pesticides. We planted nasturtiums next to our squash to keep away squash beetles, for example.

Is it bigger than a half-acre?

Probably a little smaller. But we planted in a pattern to utilize the most space but still allow people to get in and weed and water.

Is the ag campus involved?

Honestly, not that much. Our goal is to get more students around campus involved, not just the people who are already planning careers in this. We want to present it where gardening is not a hard thing to do—anyone can have fresh fruits and vegetables with minimal amounts of work put in. This is so inexpensive—that's another motivator. And for people who don't have a social scene, this is also a great way to meet people.

What's your goal with members?

I think for us we're just hoping to have enough to have the garden and the club perpetuated. We have talked about expanding to a level so that universities who adopt the same concept could support their own cafeteria. It would eventually be awesome if this garden could get big enough to substantially support that idea at UT.

Do you have a background in biology or agriculture?

Chemistry is my major as of right now. My interest is more that my mom always gardened and I'm really interested in sustainability and stuff like that.

Any bumper crops so far?

The tomatoes are doing very well. And we had some bamboo donated, and used it to tie the tomatoes up, so it looks awesome aesthetically. And it's kind of funny. We had a big pile of compost/fertilizer donated by the ag campus, and I don't know if it had seeds from last year in it but we have like this rogue pumpkin plant that took over; it's huge and we didn't even plant it. Really, everything is doing pretty well, except the strawberry plants, and some seeds didn't come up.

Do people compete for some stuff you grow?

We haven't encountered that so far, but all the students are not back yet so I can't say it won't happen. Right now we have an overabundance, so we're asking members to go out and pick.

Is there any produce you particularly like to cook with?

We have zucchini, and I love zucchini bread, it was something my mom would always make. But for just cooking right from the plant, I like the yellow squash. I cut it up, put it on a cookie sheet, sprinkle some cheese on it, and bake it like that. It's delicious. You could drizzle some olive oil on top to make it crusty, but you don't need any oil at all; it's so moist.

For more information: e-mail veggie@utk.edu or clawton@mail.tennessee.edu