Photo of community gardens

Plants for People is a student organization that promotes sustainability and the upkeep of gardens on the UNC Charlotte campus. 

According to the Plants for People Niner Engage page, "Plants for People is a student organization rooted in promoting awareness of sustainability, community-based environment involvement and extending the benefits of horticulture to university students."

The organization was founded in October 2021. President Mark Mistretta is one of the founders of the organization. According to Mistretta, the idea started from a summer program built on leadership. As the group walked around the campus gardens, they asked, "Why do we have these spaces on campus that aren't being used?" 

"Our main focus right now is the student gardens and the Jamil Student Niner Pantry gardens," said Mistretta. 

The pantry gardens are used to grow fresh produce for the Jamil Student Niner Pantry. The organization is moving forward in submitting a proposal for using the student gardens for horticulture purposes. 

"We took it upon ourselves to reach out to the entire pantry, and we have a coalition with [the Jamil Student Niner Pantry]," said Mistretta. 

The organization is also partnered with Jes Dormady, the assistant director for the Leadership & Community Engagement office, to use the garden space behind the pantry. "Along with her help and guidance, she has really promoted us to start working in her space and to start getting this done," said Mistretta. 

According to the Jamil Niner Student Pantry website, "Our mission at the Jamil Niner Student Pantry is to ensure food security, human dignity, and well-being on campus by providing in-need UNC Charlotte students with healthy, culturally appropriate emergency food. We desire to do our part in assuring that no person in the Niner community goes hungry and that every student has access to nutritious food." 

In addition to the Jamil Student Niner Pantry coalition, Plants for People is associated with the Office of Sustainability. According to the Office of Sustainability website, "Sustainability is a balancing of concerns that are environmental, social and economic. Students interested in these issues team up in many clubs and organizations to learn and make an impact on our campus and in our community."

To promote sustainability, the organization attends the Student Sustainability Summit each semester. In the upcoming Sustainability Summit on Feb. 26, the Plants For People organization will discuss its new goals for this semester. 

"Last summit was really about promoting useful techniques in the kitchen area for the food," said Mistretta. "[For example] Crown and SoVi and having them potentially switch over to a more effective means of getting these students their food."

This month, Plants For People is looking to provide food such as leafy greens and onions as well as start an herb garden to grow turmeric and other types of spices. 

"So this growing season, we're focusing on something we call 'Cultural Appreciation'," said Mistretta. "A lot of the students I visit the entire pantry are international students. So this semester, we're focusing a lot on Indian cooking." 

According to Mistretta, "The way growing season works is it's usually split out into three general dates," said Mistretta. "The beginning date will be after frosting period, which would be around [early February] to [mid-February]. That's when we're really starting to plant these first plants. Then, you have another [growing season] around March and then another one around mid-April." 

"We encourage all of the community to come out. We're going to be rebuilding some of the gardens around campus and taking care of those plants to get back to growing season," said Mistretta.

When the organization was created, the Plants For People organization was supplied by a grant from the Charlotte Green Initiative (CGI) fund, a school appropriated fund that gives money to sustainability projects. The Plants for People organization used the funding to buy dirt and supplies to build the gardening beds. 

According to the Plants for People constitution, the organization is open to any students, faculty or staff. Those interested can join through the Niner Engage page to express their interest. 

Upcoming is the Student Garden Day on April 1 from 9 to 5 p.m., according to the Niner Engage website, for students interested in getting involved. 

Before Plants for People was established, the Community Gardening Club student organization existed. 

"[The Plants for People organization is] basically a reboot of an old [organization] that initiated in 2014 that had unfortunately outgrown its exec[utive] board members," said Mistretta. 

The Community Garden Club has been active until Spring 2021. To move forward, Mistretta emphasized the need to utilize the gardens with a purpose. 

"We really needed an [organization] that runs the gardens that is more than just playing [around] and more of efficiency," said Mistretta. "Because at the end of the day, it's important that we produce food, and it's important that students learn." 

The community gardens, or student gardens, are located between the Rowe, Storrs and Robinson buildings. The pantry gardens are located behind the Jamil Niner Student Pantry building.

Editor's note: This article was updated to amend Tyler Sytsma's title and association with the club, the date of the disbandment of the Community Garden Club, and the name of the fund used for sustainability. The Niner Times regrets these mistakes. 

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