The indoor fountain in Memorial Union was a place where students could escape the stresses of classes and homework, allowing the gentle sounds of the water to take them far away. It also served as a wishing well, students tossing in their pennies — perhaps hoping for snow days or for homework to be made illegal.
Now, passersby probably ignore the empty space filled with rocks and rust. The fountain sits empty, a victim of burst pipelines. But that’s not good enough for Danielle Gagner.
The fifth-year new media student has a vision that would replace the empty, useless space with one that would give back to the community. She has a plan for an indoor garden that would grow seasonal fruits, vegetables and herbs. The garden would be free to students, who could come and take what they want. Any leftovers would be sold at the Orono Farmers Market.
Gagner was given wide range for her capstone project, which has allowed her to create plans for the Free Student Garden, as she calls the project. She has teamed up with members the Soil and Water Club, the Horticulture Club and the Sustainable Agriculture Enthusiasts, though Gagner has not formally engaged with any of these groups. While Gagner has gained the support of students, she still does not have administrative support.
Gagner’s hopes to find an organization who could maintain the Free Student Garden after she graduates, and has already planned the garden’s layout. It would have a cascade effect, with seedlings at the top and fresh, ready-to-eat items at the bottom. There is plenty of light from the huge skylight above the fountain and watering is built in, though the pipes would have to be fixed to prevent leaks.
Though she has a plan, Gagner is worried the administration will not immediately warm to her ideas. She said the administration is “adverse to change and very conservative.”
The maestro behind the free garden is no stranger to creative gardening. Gagner also created “seed bombs” — clusters of compost, soil and seeds encapsulated in terra cotta. The bombs can be tossed in a wet place and a mini-garden will pop up where it was thrown. In addition to the free garden project, Gagner plans to give seed bombs to students in an effort to promote the revitalized fountain. She said she came up with this idea because she always has to plant twice as much to ensure any harvest at all.
“Half the things I plant, I kill,” Gagner said.
Gagner said she needs all the support she can muster to sway cautious administrators, and will be creating an online petition for students to sign. She is hopeful administrative members will approve her plan. Because the empty fountain is a small enough space to be maintained on a low-cost budget and would be entirely student-run, Gagner believes she may have better luck getting the plan approved than earlier attempts to turn York Village into a green housing unit.
If all necessary approval is granted, Gagner anticipates that the garden could be started by the night she presents her capstone in April. She will present the plan to her capstone advisers soon, marking the first step in ensuring that this plan comes to fruition.CORRECTION:
An earlier version of this report stated that Danielle Gagner is working with Sustainable Agriculture Enthusiasts, the Soil and Water Club and the Horticulture Club. While Gagner has been in communication with individual members of these groups, the groups are in no way affiliated with her plan for the Free Student Garden.