I love gardens and have always enjoyed the greenery on the 9th floor terrace of the Marvin Feldman Center. But little did I expect that one day we would have growing there a veritable kingdom of plant life: fennel and hollyhocks, indigo, purple cabbage, rosemary and zinnias, Black eyed Susans, Queen Anne’s lace, purple basil. This profusion of vegetation is the work of three enterprising FIT students who conceived, designed and developed what is FIT’s first natural dye plant garden. Amber Harkonen, Meghan Navoy, and Caitlin Powell–all Textile Development and Marketing students who graduated in May–took their shared passion for preserving the planet and translated it into this tangible, hands-on corrective for the toxic processes so commonly used in the production of textiles around the world.
Their idea for the garden began to germinate just as last year’s Student Government president David Hamilton invited FIT students to come up with proposals that address global issues, proposals inspired enough to be submitted to and selected by the 2014 Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU). I am proud to say that this proposal was selected and in late March, Amber, Meghan, and Caitlin attended the Clinton Global Initiative University at the University of Arizona in Tempe.
When they returned, the students worked with Brooklyn Grange, one of the country’s leading rooftop farming businesses, to build the garden, and its staff will continue to guide them. Today, just weeks after they went into the ground, the plants are flourishing–growing in two 10 x 14 foot beds–some of them “as high as an elephant’s eye.” The first harvest will be ready for sale at FIT’s Thursday Flea Markets in the fall.
The students also met and were mentored by knitwear designer and natural dyer Liz Spencer. They hope that the garden generates enough student interest to justify a series of natural dyeing workshops. Indeed, as members of the Class of 2014, they see this garden as their gift to future FIT students–a place where students from all disciplines can learn about the beauty of natural dyes and their benefit to the environment.
Even though they graduated in May, Amber, Meghan and Caitlin will be on campus–on the terrace–throughout the summer, tending to the garden. I look forward to seeing them there and reporting on the garden’s progress throughout the year.