Aleemud Din, a resident of UNM Student Family Housing, used to work in his gardens in Pakistan for hours to grow flowers and vegetables. When he left Pakistan to join his family in the U.S., he thought he would have to give up having a garden of his own.
He said he could not even imagine having a garden in America, since his wife was a student, and knew living in America was expensive.
“I missed organic food. I thought I (wouldn't) be able to buy organic food or grow some for myself and my family,” he said.
To his surprise and delight, Din learned that garden plots were available to students living in UNM's family housing.
Denise Mitchell, Student Family Housing area coordinator, said the allotment of gardens for students and their families not only helps them financially, but also emotionally.
“We have such a large international student population that there might be things that they grow that we would not necessarily grow here in New Mexico or things that they cannot find here in the grocery stores probably, like mustard green,” she said.
She said SFH provides them the opportunity to grow the vegetables and fruits of their own choice and be actively involved in the gardening.
A wide variety of fruits and vegetables can be seen in the gardens of SFH, due to a large variety of international students there, she said. Gardening is also a great cultural experience, as students come to know about foods and plants from different regions.
“There is a very interesting wild green that grows in the gardens, and it has been here for about five years. It is very tall and it has purple leaves on them, and Chinese students will pick the leaves and mix them with garlic," Mitchell said. "They don’t know what the English word is for the plant, and I do not know what the Chinese word is. But that is a common plant that I have seen growing in the gardens."
She said the plants in the gardens of SFH are region specific.
“It depends on what kind of cuisine the family is used to or culturally adopted to. I know I see a lot of melons, peppers, lettuces, radishes, garlic and onions, some flowers, corns. We have a variety of food,” she said.
“The gardens cut down on the cost of going to the grocery stores to buy vegetables and fruits. I think, for all of our families here, because they are college students, money sometimes can be short," she said. "For them gardens are very beneficial."
This year, SFH did a project with the grounds department to till all of the gardens.
"(The grounds department) added soil to them. Hopefully, we will be to continue and rehabilitate those plots. The soil is losing its nutrients, so we want to make sure that the soil is rich so that the residents have wonderful harvests,” she said.
Din said residents share vegetables with each other and learn from each other’s experiences of gardening in New Mexico.
“It is a great learning experience. We share our culture, we share food. We learn to know how gardening is done in different countries,” he said.
Sayyed Shah is the assistant news editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @mianfawads.