Connections Take Root with New Learning Garden

Tucked behind Carmichael Gym’s outdoor basketball courts along Rocky Branch Trail is a garden that welcomes students to do more than just stop and smell the flowers, but also savor the flavor of edible plants.

The Learning Garden is a collaborative project between students in the Sustainability Stewards and NC State Grounds Services. The site features various North Carolina-native, pollinator-friendly and edible vegetation including fig trees, blueberry bushes, strawberries, rosemary, thyme and lavender.

The garden was funded with a grant from the NC State Sustainability Fund, which was awarded to students Juhi Dattani and Marisah de Moll. Dattani and de Moll envisioned a more accessible garden for students, taking their idea to Chancellor Woodson as part of Woodson’s Ask the Chancellor initiative. 

That step led Dattani and de Moll to form relationships with Grounds Services and join the Sustainability Stewards student organization where they wrote the grant proposal for what would become the Learning Garden. 

“It started out with just having conversations about wanting this, to now become something actualized,” said Dattani, an Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems major, during a recent planting day at the garden. “To see community action and everyone coming together to have intentional time to sow the ground together…it’s so beautiful.”

Student wearing hat and gardening gloves plants a strawberry plant in the ground

“It just normalizes seeing food growing around you.”

Marisah de Moll

“I feel like this is a space where it’s helping you connect to nature and connect back to the land,” says de Moll, who recently graduated with a degree in Applied Nutrition Science. “It just normalizes seeing food growing around you.” Connecting students to their environment are just one of the project’s goals. The Learning Garden also demonstrates how urban settings can be managed to reduce environmental impact, protect nearby water systems and provide a habitat for wildlife and pollinators.

Courtney Eads, a horticulture supervisor for Grounds Services, has collaborated with the Stewards on planting design and maintenance. 

“We are excited for the opportunity to have a visible and interactive demonstration garden that showcases place-based knowledge for students,” Eads wrote in a letter of support for the project. 

Horticultural specialist Steph Harvey agrees. “I always appreciate any sort of edible garden that encourages people to eat fresh foods and get involved in growing plants,” said Harvey, who is among several Grounds employees who have provided hands-on support for the garden. “This project encourages everyone that walks by to say, ‘Oh you can eat that!’”  

Learn more about the Learning Garden, including a garden database and how to get involved, by visiting