Green-thumbed ASU organization seeks to feed local, international communities

Garden Pool ASU teaches sustainable gardening in order to bolster ecosystems and feed the hungry

ASU, a university that champions sustainability and innovation, is home to an organization which incorporates those values to help communities in need sustainably grow food. 

Garden Pool ASU is a student-operated club that aims to teach people in developing countries how to use a sustainable alternative to traditional gardening — called a garden pool — in order to help those in need. 

“A garden pool is a sustainable closed-loop aquaponic system, and each system is unique to the area available,” said Cristy Parker, an ASU graduate student in the School of Social Transformation, who founded the club last year.

Aquaponic systems combine both plant and aquatic animal life so that plants are fed the animals’ waste, and in return, the plants clean the water that goes back to the fish.

Garden Pool ASU operates independently as a club, but is guided by the official Garden Pool organization, a 501(c)3 nonprofit international public charity "dedicated to research and education of sustainable ways to grow food," according to the Garden Pool webpage.

Garden Pool founder, president and CEO Dennis McClung said he has a good relationship with the university club and respects its independence.   

“Garden Pool ASU is a stand-alone organization under the umbrella of Garden Pool,” McClung said. “So basically what we do is teach them how to do what we do at Garden Pool. We let them take ownership of some of our programs, for example, we let them take over the Seed Library that we have in Tempe.” 

The Seed Library is a facility stocked with edible plant and herb seeds suited for Arizona's climate and growing conditions.

This year, the club hopes to expand its reach abroad.

It already has an international presence through a program in Haiti, McClung said.  

“They have been championing going after Haiti," McClung said. "We have a program in Haiti where a group goes to help build a Garden Pool.”  

Parker, who herself has traveled to Haiti with the official Garden Pool organization, said even though Garden Pool ASU's ultimate goal is to travel to Haiti, they were unable to travel last year as a club due to logistical problems.   

“My ultimate goal last year was to just get the club off the ground, and it was my first time even really being in a club, (let alone) run one, so it was definitely a learning experience for me,” Parker said. “But, my vision was to have these community projects, to help around the community with the seed libraries and then at the end (of the year) to have that one big humanitarian trip overseas.”

Garden Pool faculty advisor Elizabeth Swadener said she participates because sustainable gardening in Arizona is very important to her.

“I have a long-term commitment to food justice, access to food and what they call food deserts,” Swadener said. “The idea of taking pools and minimizing water use to grow healthy organic food sounded very logical to me.”

She said she wants to help "minimize our footprint in the desert and grow healthy food."

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