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UCO Partners with Edmond Rankin YMCA to Create Community Garden

Jennifer Swann, UCO graduate student and summer intern for the university’s Volunteer and Service Learning Center, oversees the center’s community garden.

July 31, 2014 

Media Contact: Lindsay Houts, Staff Writer, UCO University Relations, 405-974-2121,


A new partnership between the University of Central Oklahoma’s Volunteer and Service Learning Center (VSLC) and the Edmond Rankin YMCA is growing in the form of a community garden, providing a transformative learning opportunity for students, and organic fruits, vegetables and herbs for Central Pantry, the food pantry on the university’s campus.

Thanks to heavy rain this summer, the 480-square-foot UCO-YMCA Community Garden is teeming with tomatoes, four varieties of peppers, summer squash, okra, strawberries, carrots, zucchini, pumpkins and herbs. Absolutely no herbicides or pesticides are allowed, making for fresh, organic crops.

A group of Central students, faculty and staff serve as volunteer gardeners, keeping half of the harvest, while the other half goes to Central Pantry. Until now, the pantry couldn’t regularly offer fresh fruit and vegetables.

“The YMCA has been really great in supporting us,” said Eric Hemphill, coordinator for Central’s VSLC.

“They have obviously given us the land and the plots, but besides that they provide some tools and allowed the pantry — which has no budget for this — to purchase some initial crops.”

VSLC summer intern and Central graduate student Jennifer Swann had little gardening knowledge prior to being assigned to the garden for the summer, but learned quickly with the guidance of Tim Tillman, sustainability coordinator for Central.

Swann now pulls weeds, prunes, waters and oversees the dozen 4-by-10-foot plots that have been adopted by members of the Central community. She’s also working to establish the garden’s compost pile and to implement water conservation tools and methods like rain barrels.

“My experience with gardening was limited. I had a general interest, and especially an interest in the environmental impact. I just like spending time in the earth. The thought that what is grown is going back to the pantry — to UCO students and community members — that’s incredibly rewarding,” Swann said.

Hemphill not only anticipates the garden’s continued success, but sees the potential for growth, too.

“There are so many who have an interest in gardening, and an interest in helping provide fresh foods to those who would otherwise have very little access to such produce, so growth is always an option. We simply have to find the correct space and the right people,” Hemphill said.

“UCO is a community of empathetic people who want to give back. So the people aspect of it isn’t an issue. The place aspect presents some challenges, but ultimately there is so much open space for a project like this to develop in Edmond and Oklahoma City, and I am confident that if this project is to grow significantly, we can find the space to do it in.”           

To learn more about the UCO-YMCA Community Garden or to find out how you can help Central Pantry, contact Hemphill at


Editor’s Note: To download art associated with this release, visit

Cutline 1: Jennifer Swann, UCO graduate student and summer intern for the university’s Volunteer and Service Learning Center, oversees the center’s community garden. The garden, located at the Edmond Rankin YMCA, provides fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs to the Central Pantry, a food pantry on UCO’s campus.

Cutline 2: The UCO-YMCA Community Garden will provide fresh, organic tomatoes, peppers, squash, okra, strawberries, carrots, zucchini, pumpkins and herbs to Central Pantry clients.