Student Office of Sustainability strives to make students conscious of their impact on the environment with new Tower Gardens

Not only will the gardens spread environmental awareness, but will also give back to the UW-Eau Claire community

More stories from Ta’Leah Van Sistine


Photo by Gabbie Henn

The Student Office of Sustainability will donate the crop from the Tower Gardens to the Campus Food Pantry.

Looking across the second-floor terrace of Davies Student Center, one doesn’t need to travel far to find thriving vegetation that is maintained by students. As of June, the Student Office of Sustainability has started growing lettuce, kale and basil through two Tower Gardens, or vertical growing systems that do not require soil, on the terrace.

Julie Carr, the supervisor of the Campus Harvest Food Pantry, explained that SOS pursued this project to help UW-Eau Claire students with food insecurity.

They plan to give the produce to the Campus Harvest Food Pantry,” she said.

Produce from the Tower Gardens was already delivered to the pantry several weeks ago, but its impact is still being felt. However, Austin Northagen, a fourth-year English critical studies student and SOS director, believes the gardens will improve student and faculty relationships with the environment.

Northagen said one of the central goals of SOS is to make everyone on campus more conscious of the impact they have on the environment. Therefore, with the Tower Gardens placed openly on the terrace, and news of them becoming more popular on social media, Northagen said that they will effectively spread environmental awareness.

“Making sure that we are keeping in mind the aftereffects of when we throw something away or when we litter, or when we go for a car ride — that those carbon emissions are going to have some consequences, and what that consequence is will hopefully be prevented with the value of growing some lettuce,” Northagen said.

He said he experienced this immersion process firsthand this past summer because he has been the only person from the SOS maintaining the gardens thus far.  

“I had to learn how to check the nutrient levels, replant and know overall maintenance of the plants,” Northagen said.

He said that through embracing the unfamiliar process of taking care of the Tower Gardens, he foresees other students, who have similarly not explored such an opportunity, gaining environmental insight and appreciation for the gardens. Northagen said that SOS is given a yearly budget of $184,000. This monetary figure comes from the student segregated fees that each student pays for in their tuitions.  

“We also try to transform our campus to be more environmentally-friendly, whether that’s    infrastructure-wise or through programs like the Tower Gardens — any way to spend our $184,000 budget,” Northagen said. “We do our best. We don’t always spend all of it, but we make sure that we are strategic with spending it.”

In an effort to ensure the Tower Gardens create a lasting impact on UW-Eau Claire students and faculty, Northagen said he hopes to transport the plants inside once winter arrives. He also said he envisions them being placed underneath the staircase on the first floor of the Davies Center so that they can continue to help the food pantry.

Van Sistine can be reached at [email protected].