ASU arboretum promotes environmental-community engagement

ASU and its surrounding communities benefit from campus harvests

Students walking around campus may not realize they’re stepping through a designated arboretum on their way to class.

The entire Tempe campus was established as an arboretum by then-ASU President Lattie Coor in 1990.

The ASU arboretum features an edible landscape of campus-grown dates, sour oranges and herbs, according to its website. A volunteer program as well as an internship program with the School of Life Sciences are also available through the arboretum.

ASU has the largest date palm collection of any public garden in the country with over 40 varieties, according to the arboretum’s website, all of which are collected and sorted by volunteers.

ASU’s harvests of its sour oranges and dates help fund the arboretum volunteer program, new garden construction and the purchase of supplies, according to its website. 

Angela Ashton, a groundskeeper lead for the University, said collecting the campus dates is a year-long process, finishing with a harvest of almost 3,000 dates every year.

“The students love it because it’s putting into practice what they’re learning in the classroom about sustainability,” Ashton said. “It’s one thing to hear about it. It’s another to experience it.”

Ashton said that the date harvests are a great reflection of the University’s environmentally friendly practices and community involvement.

“ASU as a whole is trying to be more green, and every year we try to be more sustainable,” Ashton said. “This is the roots of that program, this is where we started.”

The arboretum’s volunteer program both benefits the environment and brings together members of the Sun Devil community.

Ellie Miller, a public service and public policy senior, said she and her sorority sisters at Omega Phi Alpha volunteered at the date farm at the Polytechnic campus and enjoyed helping the ASU community.

“At our sorority, we focus on serving different communities, and one of the communities that we focus on is the University community,” Miller said.

Chris Ploog

The entrance to the Sun Devil Plaza on Tempe campus is pictured on Friday, Sept. 27, 2017.

Miller said she found the hands-on harvesting, washing and sorting of the dates the most rewarding part.

“It’s a really unique experience,” Miller said. “I think rarely do you ever get to pick food and consume it and have it be that natural and organic.”

Olivia Anderson, a journalism senior, said she was surprised by the community turnout while volunteering at the date harvest.

“It’s really cool that the community supports the University and this harvest that they’re doing,” she said. “I know ASU strives to be a sustainable university— the fact that we’re growing things on campus and selling them to the community really reinforces that principle.”

Austin Johnson, a sustainability coordinator with Aramark, said he’s been volunteering at the campus harvests since 2013.

Come February, dozens of ASU students, staff and faculty will come out and harvest oranges on campus. The oranges are then sent to a local juicer and served in campus dining halls, Johnson said.

“If (students are) eating all their meals on campus, it’s really cool for them to see where their food is coming from, especially if it’s a local item right from campus,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the growing and collection of ASU’s dates and oranges benefits both the Sun Devil community and those around it.

“A lot of the people who come here to buy the dates are just people who live in the area,” Johnson said. “It gives them a chance to come to ASU and see what ASU has to offer. That really helps the community and cements ASU as part of the community.”

Reach the reporter at Kimberly.Rapanut@asu or follow @kimrapanut on Twitter

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