Dirt and sunshine

Allie Mason came to the University of South Carolina to study marine biology, but a few semesters locked in a lab led her to discover something important about herself. She needed sunshine a lot like a plant.

That’s how a study abroad trip to Australia led Mason to discover her love for plants. She changed her major to environmental science and joined Sustainable Carolina and the Green Quad, the university’s environmentally focused living and learning community.

“I fell in love with nutrition and I realized that my route to nutrition was through sustainability and sustainable agriculture,” Mason says. 

Now Mason, who graduated in December 2014, manages the community garden behind that residence hall. There she spends as much time as she can in the sun, with her hands in the dirt.

“The Carolina Community Farm and Garden, I basically manage it, plan it, plant it and implement any programming related to it,” she says. “The whole entire farm is student-run and so I oversee that.”

Transitioning from an intern to a full-time farmer wasn’t all peaches and sunshine, she says. It took some learning.

“I thought I had a black thumb until January. I was slightly terrified,” she says. “I thought I was going to kill the entire farm but things started growing pretty well once I just showed it some love. I set my intention towards being a farmer and things worked out.” 

Mason has big dreams for the garden, hoping to expand its impact on campus and beyond. This summer, she’s working with a Columbia children’s camp to teach kids about sustainability and healthy eating. She’s also working with a senior center in the area.

These days, visitors to campus might even notice the garden’s produce being sold at the Healthy Carolina Farmers Market and the Rosewood Market’s sidewalk farmers market. She’s also bringing her other love to the position, hosting cooking classes for students.

“It’s been great. It’s overwhelming at times, but then I just remember what a great position I’m in, and the support I have is enormous,” she says. “It’s nice to have the familiarity and that gave me a huge opportunity to expand the programming.”

Everything in the farm is a “grown with love” and was recently designated as a part of the Certified South Carolina Program. All the produce is also grown organically (but isn’t certified organic by the USDA), without pesticides or fertilizer and grown with rainwater.

Mason hopes to bring more students to the garden to use the space socially and learn from it. She wants to reach out to classes and organizations across campus to take advantage and partner with the garden. 

“As a student, I didn’t find my place until and I discovered Sustainable Carolina, and immediately I was home. I feel like I found my tribe,” she says. 

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The Carolina Community Farm and Garden, a part of Sustainable Carolina and Green Quad, is always looking for more volunteers to get their hands dirty. Visit the garden's website to volunteer for a shift maintaining the garden. During the summer, volunteers work 8:30-11 a.m., Monday, Wednesday and Friday. 

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