Down to Earth:
The History of UGArden Herbs
Though you would never imagine it in Five Points, a nine acre, sustainably minded farm known as UGArden enriches the life of the UGA community just miles down the road.
University of Georgia students interested in the environment and sustainable agriculture founded the UGArden. Through the work of these individuals and a dedicated professor, Professor David Berle, UGArden was born.
UGArden is a demonstration farm with a mission to teach students and community members how to grow food sustainably and share that food with families in need. It is home to a diverse range of crops including fruits, vegetables, mushrooms and medicinal herbs. UGArden provides endless opportunities for learning with formal classes and internships, volunteering and joining the UGArden Student Club.
From its relatively humble beginnings, the garden expanded rapidly. The flourishing farm led Maisie Loo, a master gardener, to start a demonstration herb garden just 2 years after the garden was created.
Originally created as if it were in someone’s backyard, the herbs of the garden were casually planted together, creating a sense of warmth and comfort. Maisie Loo grew a diverse collection of herbs and began the process of drying them. Because the garden was initially small in size, the drying process consisted of hanging herb bundles between two chairs on a piece of twine. Thus, Maisie Loo began to make teas and other herbal products like lavender infused oil and herbal soap that ignited the future for the herb program.
UGArden herbs exponentially grew in its first years under Maisie Loo’s leadership. With increasing interest from UGA students and community members, the program grew in to produce more herbal products. As the farm grew, it began to shift towards becoming a production farm which included developing the herb program into a small business called UGA Herbs. After these exciting and fruitful years focused on the UGArden herb program, Masie Loo transferred her attention to her own backyard and moved on from the farm. A faithful volunteer and UGA double dawg, Noelle Joy, was asked to manage the program. Noelle had assisted the herb program for four years, which allowed her to watch the garden blossom from a few small plots to an increasingly expanding production herb farm where over 40 different medicinal herbs are grown, dried and processed into a line of herbal teas, soaps, salves and lip balms.
Tasked with the continuing development of the herb garden, Noelle crafted four main goals: educating students and the public, researching medicinal herbs in Georgia, collaborating with various disciplines at UGA, and acting as a model to help teach farmers how to thrive in the medicinal herb industry.
Interns and volunteers have enthusiastically embraced her first goal. Varieties of students enroll in the herb internship class to learn about herbs with hands on experience. People from around Athens and UGA’s campus, students and community members come to the UGArden to help with many aspect of the herb program. A local business owner comes to get away from her hectic job and learn more about herb growing practices. Another has lived in Athens for almost 40 years and comes to enjoy the simple pleasure of working on a farm. Extending her desire for education, Noelle also embraced research, making it an essential aspect of the UGArden. Multiple graduate and PhD students conducted research for their theses through the herb program. Noelle exemplifies her second goal by pursuing her PhD studying hemp. Noelle’s goal to collaborate across disciple also flourishes.
The farm partners with multiple disciplines offered by UGA to pioneer innovative strategies to create a more sustainable farm. Some projects have included working with the New Media Institute to develop a record keeping app and the website of UGArden Herbs and working with the Entrepreneurship Institute to develop a marketing and outreach strategy. UGArden Herbs constantly pushes the limits of possibility: local companies are producing products created with herbs from the UGArden. Places like Creature Comforts and Mama Bath and Body, a natural company in Atlanta, understand the benefits of harvesting herbs from this local and sustainable farm. Thus, the mindset “we are stronger together” surrounds the herb program. Furthering the idea of collaboration, UGArden hosts various seminars for herb growers and is working to develop and model sustainable herb production practices for herb growers to imitate. Through these efforts, Noelle’s goal of teaching farmers herb practices is slowly ripening. UGArden is making significant strides to impact the university and the community which surrounds it.
Sustainability is at the heart of the UGArden. Sustainability does not only include an environmental aspect but also social and economic aspects. UGArden is innovating ways to become more sustainable in all three of these spheres.
Attempting to become self-sustaining by ramping up the sale of herbal products is no easy task. A large portion of the farm’s income comes from UGArden Herbs which is why the program relies on volunteers and individuals in the community. People from all over Athens, from all walks of life, come to enjoy the simple pleasure of things like harvesting holy basil and processing hibiscus. They build unique community around their interests while developing connections that last a life time. The herbs provide countless habitats and food sources for wildlife as well. The herb program and farm as a whole embraces an organic approach for pest management. The garden also practices soil regeneration. Instead of tilling soil and adding synthetic fertilizer, the garden plants cover crops during off seasons to replenish nutrients that were lost. These efforts push the garden to become more holistically sustainable to support themselves now and in the future.
This farm has brought countless people joy and fostered enthusiasm for gardening. Supporting this program or becoming a part of it is simple. Our teas are sold around Athens. You can buy them from the State Botanical Garden Gift Shop near the UGArden, Community in downtown Athens, and the Tate Market on UGA’s campus. Purchasing any tea or herbal product funds the UGArden to continue their mission of teaching, sharing and providing opportunities for engagement. Volunteering is another way to assist with creating a self-sustaining farm while engaging in the environment. Right at your back door, there is a priceless opportunity to experience the beauty of nature, to learn more about sustainable, organic agriculture, and to practice the art of gardening.
Why not stop by and smell the herbs?
To see the our delicious teas and beautiful other products, click there! It will bring you the the UGArden herbs page to give you an idea of what we offer.
If you click on this button, it will bring you to the page call Engage for times to volunteer with us. We can’t wait to see you out there!