Students Recognize Earth Day with Garden Dedication Ceremony

April 24, 2023

The St. John’s University community celebrated Earth Day on Friday, April 21, with a symbolic rededication of the organic garden and arboretum on the west end of the Queens, NY, campus.

The event, cosponsored by the student-run Earth Club and the St. John’s chapter of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), featured a prayer over newly planted seeds led by students Holly Gola, Isabel Romero, and Sarah Quispe, and a barbecue whose theme was “make every day Earth Day.”

“In New York, we’ve come to realize the importance of community,” said Holly, President of the University’s chapter of CRS who will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Science degree in Global Development and Sustainability. “This garden will provide food for those who need it.”

Earth Day was first celebrated on April 22, 1970. The garden ceremony was held a day ahead of the formal holiday. More than two dozen people attended, all committed to the continued “greenification” of the Queens campus and the garden’s role in supplying food to St. John’s Bread & Life in Brooklyn, NY.

“It’s important that people connect with nature,” said junior Lucas Shears, a member of the Earth Club who is studying Environmental Science with a minor in Physics. “Things can grow here, and getting your hands in the dirt is important. We are all active participants in nature.”

Renewed commitment to the garden comes amid other recent efforts to reduce the University’s carbon footprint. New air-source heat pumps were installed to warm water at Carnesecca Arena. A heat transfer system was created to warm classrooms in Marillac Hall, and state-of-the-art, water-cooled industrial “chillers” replaced gas-fueled cooling towers to generate air conditioning in Montgoris Dining Hall and most recently, the School of Law.

The new St. Vincent Health Sciences Center, scheduled to open in 2024, will be fully powered by electricity. The University is also ahead of emissions standards required of New York City businesses as part of the city’s Climate Mobilization Act of 2019. St. John’s even offers a Master of Business Administration degree in Sustainability focused on the relationship between the economy and the environment.

Associate Director of Environmental and Energy Conservation Peter Barker said other planned initiatives include enhancing the composting system campuswide, upgrading food-waste recovery efforts, and recruiting student volunteers for recycling and other conservation projects.

“The biggest thing in reducing our carbon footprint is energy management,” Mr. Barker said. “But even smaller efforts like composting can have an impact. We want to rally the St. John’s community around our sustainability efforts.”

Earth Day’s mission is to educate and activate environmental awareness worldwide. St. John’s has been committed to eco-friendliness for years, and in 2022 was named by The Princeton Review as one of the most environmentally responsible campuses in the nation. St. John’s was also the only school in the New York City metropolitan area ranked among the nation’s top 50 green colleges.

At the center of that commitment has been the garden and arboretum. The garden has produced organically grown vegetables for the St. John’s community for more than a decade. However, student management of the garden ceased with the onset of COVID-19. As pandemic concerns eased, students took the lead in resurrecting the garden. Food not consumed by the St. John’s community is donated to Bread & Life.

Meanwhile, the 65 trees of the arboretum store carbon in their tissues, reducing the amount released into the atmosphere. As the trees continue to mature, they will be capable of storing even more carbon.

In blessing the garden, Sarah, a Catholic Scholar and member of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ environmental advocacy internship program, said the goal is to build something that endures well beyond her May graduation.

“We want to create something here that future students can be a part of,” Sarah said.