Story by Heather Ebert
Photos by Carla Kucinski
As Steve Desch's four children play in the dirt and nibble on
fresh peas, Desch works in his family garden watering, planting
seeds and pulling weeds. He claims that while he does most of the
grunt work, his three daughters and son don't do much except tear
up the dirt. Like most children, Desch's kids enjoy getting dirty,
but they may be too young to understand how much work it actually
takes their father to maintain a garden - let alone two.
Desch, an astronomy instructor at GTCC, exercises his green
thumb at home and at work, where he lends his experience and
knowledge to the GTCC Food Pantry Garden. Desch is the garden's
primary caretaker, a responsibility he has enjoyed for the past six
"It is a good way to relieve stress, and it's a good way to talk
to people and get them interested in their own gardens or the food
pantry," he said. "I like seeing stuff growing and coming to
The Food Pantry Garden is an extension of the GTCC Food Pantry,
which provides food to faculty, staff and students in need. During
the growing season, vegetables from the garden are harvested and
made available to faculty, staff and students for free. Both the
GTCC Food Pantry and the Food Pantry Garden are supported
financially by the GTCC Foundation.
During the height of the recession in fall 2008, the Student
Government Association (SGA) created the Food Pantry as a response
to students' hardships.
"Students were having to pick between coming to class or putting
food on their table," said Matthew Frow, who served as the SGA vice
president for clubs during that time.
By spring 2009, Margot Horney, a former GTCC employee, enlisted
the help of the SGA to plant a campus garden that would serve the
college community in conjunction with the GTCC Food Pantry.
"It was really in order to supplement the Food Pantry and to
introduce fresh food into the packaged food we already had," Horney
Today, Desch continues to carry out Horney's vision. He tends to
the garden nearly year-round to provide GTCC students, faculty and
staff with approximately 200 pounds of fresh produce.
His work in the garden begins shortly after North Carolina's
brief winter. First, he breaks up the soil so that it aerates and
allows water to be more easily absorbed - a common farming
procedure known as tilling. Next, he plants seeds. Desch said that
peas can be planted as early as February. Other "cool weather"
plants that grow in the garden during this time are cabbage,
lettuce and turnips. Shortly before summer arrives, the fresh
produce is harvested.
In July, Desch tills the dirt again and plants summer veggies
such as tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. This round of produce
arrives along with the thousands of GTCC students beginning fall
Desch manages to fit in one more "cool weather" planting season
shortly after the summer veggies are harvested and just before the
winter weather becomes too harsh. He plants lettuce, broccoli and
carrots, which tend to grow well during this season. Desch says the
colder the weather is the sweeter they are.
During the growing seasons, Desch kneels down in the dirt and
inspects each plant one by one for insects. He tries his best to
rid the plants of bugs with his own hands instead of resorting to
pesticides, a vision which was important to Horney too when she
first started the garden.
"If you want to take a tomato, you can take the tomato off the
plant and eat it across campus," she said.
In the six years Desch has been caring for the garden, he has
only used pesticides a few times due to bug infestations and when
While Desch primarily cares for the garden, he also relies on a
few faculty, staff and student volunteers, including SGA
representatives and officers, who help maintain the garden.
"The volunteers can see first-hand the need for donations and
healthy options for students that are essential for their success
in class," said Berri Cross, director of Student Life at GTCC.
During the growing season, the GTCC Food Pantry Garden
offers free produce on most Tuesdays beginning at 11 a.m. in the
cafeteria in Medlin Campus Center on the Jamestown Campus. For more
information about the garden or to learn how to volunteer contact
Steve Desch at email@example.com.
- August 8, 2014