Cook Organic Garden

Cook Organic Garden Club sign.

View from Cook Organic Garden toward ENR building.

Beehives at the Cook Organic Garden.

Cook Organic Garden plots.

Thirty Years of Productive Campus Landscapes

Written by Luke Drake

Thoughts of seeds and soil enter the minds of gardeners every year as winter slowly edges towards spring. On Cook Campus, this marks a time of transition as a diverse group of gardeners will soon return to their annual tradition of turning the space behind the Environmental & Natural Resource Sciences Building into a vibrant community garden. Officially known as the Cook Organic Garden Club, it is a garden site divided into 78 plots that are used by faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community residents.

Although community gardens and local food have become popular topics in recent years, the Cook Organic Garden Club dates back to the early 1980s. There have been changes over the years in terms of organizational structure and location, but for three decades the club has been a center of gardening on campus. In 1977, a group of undergraduate and graduate Cook College students formed the Committee for Intermediate Technology. According to Chuck Carroll (UC ’84), it was a student organization that worked on projects such as solar ovens, wind generators, and organic gardens. Gardening was the most successful part of this work, and Mr. Carroll founded the Cook Organic Garden Club to reflect growing interest in organic horticulture. Although the garden has a long history, it is not without challenges. Initially located behind the former New Jersey Museum of Agriculture, the garden club has been forced to move twice. The second location was near the Equine Research Facility on Ryders Lane, but the club relocated in the early 2000s. Since then, Cook Organic Garden Club has made productive use of land administered by the Department of Animal Science, at its current site behind the ENR building. Even though there is more than 30,000 square feet of cultivated space at the garden, the club is not alone; between the garden club and the ENR building, the Marigold Project has a history of engaging New Brunswick residents in flower production.

Today, multiple generations of Rutgers affiliates use this space. Students who initially became involved in the garden continue as alumni, as does Joe DiFillippo, who has been a member since the late 1980s. In addition, students and alumni are not the only ones taking part—faculty and staff have become integral members as well. Mr. DiFillippo enjoys this diversity that comes with such a longstanding garden club: “With diversity in the club, you get different segments of the Rutgers community, the general community. I've always liked that.” Members also enjoy the exercise, appreciation of nature, and food that comes from the garden.

Even though it is tucked away behind the ENR building, it has long been a popular site for both veteran as well as first-time gardeners. In 2014, all but one of the garden plots was used. The 2015 season has begun, and non-members are welcome to participate in group work days. For more information, please contact club president Mike Mills at cookorganicgardenclub@gmail.com or check out the COGC website.

Also visit the Rutgers Student Farm if interested in learning about farming.