GGC tree planting yields lessons in sustainability, research, community service

By Charlotte Reames, Class of 2021

The outdoors became a classroom last week as Georgia Gwinnett College (GCC) students, faculty and staff planted 20 apple trees at the college’s Microfarm. 

Held in recognition of Georgia’s Arbor Day, the event wrapped up GGC’s Sustainability Week, an annual event which began last year, organized by members of GGC’s faculty and staff.

Senior business administration major Katherine Moron, 30, loves nature, so the event was a natural fit for her. With the recent rain, Moron knew that she was going to get muddy, but she was fascinated, excited and ready to do whatever it took.

“I learned how to dig a hole,” she explained. “I learned for the first time that digging a hole in the ground is not easy, but I loved the idea. Most of all I learned the importance of an apple tree.”

“The goal is to educate students in sustainability, so that they can go into the Gwinnett community and live in sustainable ways,” said Dr. Rebekah Ward, associate professor of biology. “But it’s also to give back to the community, to demonstrate that we are grateful for all of the support and want to reciprocate.” 

The apple orchard is also being used for soil research. The research will focus on the chemical and biological profiles of the soil.

Dr. James Russell, associate professor of biology and chair of studies for environmental science, and his colleagues took samples of the soil during the planting as a baseline. As the trees grow, the researchers will continue to take samples to determine changes in the soil. They will also determine whether the trees have contributed to that change. 

“We want to see the cycle of life,” he said.

“We’re hoping to see the way that the soil itself becomes healthier, and the types of bacteria that grow there will be altered through natural selection, so that they can grow faster and help the trees,” Ward added.

Marcia Ford, the college’s director of Environmental Health and Safety, is a member of GGC’s Sustainability Committee, which organizes events for the annual Sustainability Week. She said this event falls in line with GGC’s “Tree Campus USA” designation.

GGC has earned the Tree Campus USA designation for three consecutive years. To be a part of Tree Campus USA, the college must meet certain requirements each year.

“This recognition is awarded through the Arbor Day Foundation,” she explained. “To be eligible, schools have to accomplish five standards, including a campus tree advisory committee, a campus tree care plan, a tree program with dedicated resources, observance of Arbor Day and a service-learning project.” 

Ford said that while a number of biology majors participated in the event this year, she hopes this service-learning project enables students, regardless of their majors, to understand and share the importance of trees. 

“I really hope that next year we can get some students who are studying to be teachers to participate in the project,” she said. "They can interact with the K-12 schools to teach the children about Arbor Day and the importance of trees and maybe even plant a tree on their campus.”


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