Georgetown’s Earth Commons Institute hosted its second annual Hoya Harvest Festival, a celebration of the bounty from the annual growing season, on the Regents Hall patio Oct. 13.
The Earth Commons, Georgetown’s hub for sustainability and environmental innovation that launched in 2022, organized the festival with the goal of celebrating the Earth and various initiatives fostered at Georgetown such as the Hoya Hive, Georgetown’s student-kept ecological beehive, and university commitments to clean energy.
A key focus of the event is the new Hoya Harvest Garden, which first broke ground in April. The festival highlighted its successes against issues such as food insecurity and biodiversity loss with the revitalization of native insects and an immense amount of produce by the conclusion of the planting season.
Attendees enjoyed free food and a wide range of fall-themed activities, like pumpkin carving and spooky arts and crafts. There were also numerous activities centered around environmental sustainability, such as an opportunity for community members to harvest their own vegetables from the garden.
The festival also featured 15 student and community organizations, including the Georgetown Eco Consultants student group, a student-run sustainability consulting group, and the Georgetown Renewable Energy and Environmental Network (GREEN), Georgetown’s environmental education and service student organization.
Lizbeth Martinez-Ramos (SFS ’24), a member of GREEN, hosted a game at the organization’s table where participants could win pumpkins and succulents if they matched the names of native species to their common names.
“The idea was to put together something interactive that people could enjoy,” Martinez-Ramos told The Hoya. “While it’s not quite a lecture, it’s important to keep people engaged on the lighter side of environmentalism.”
Norman Wang (SFS ’26), who attended the event and participated in activities held by GREEN said the event helped increase awareness of the Hoya Harvest Garden and its mission of establishing a collective commitment to promoting sustainable food systems.
“There is a pretty big initiative going on right at the heart of the campus,” Wang told The Hoya. “People walk by there a lot of times but they don’t really notice what the garden is doing and who’s running it.”
Katrina Csaky (SFS ’25), another festival attendee, said the event helped her to recognize the efforts of organizations on campus are making toward environmental sustainability.
“I think it’s great because it raises more awareness and visibility of sustainability and sustainability efforts on campus,” Csaky told The Hoya. “To get to talk to the ones who are doing the work behind the scenes every single day and hear about the progress they’re making on campus has been really cool.”
The Earth Commons has been planning the event as a culmination of the growing season that began with the ground-breaking ceremony in April, according to Priscila Baez (SCS ’22), the Events and Communications Coordinator for the Earth Commons. Baez emphasized the importance of celebrating the garden as a communal gathering place.
“It’s a beautiful event with the objective of helping students get to know our garden,” Baez told The Hoya. “It’s been a great way to have people come here from different backgrounds, different ages — it doesn’t matter who you are, people enjoy being outdoors.”
Baez said the festival serves to show students and attendees how sustainability can be incorporated into their everyday life in unconventional ways.
“We hope to show attendees that environmental initiatives have a broader scope than what most people would think possible,” Baez wrote. “The Hoya Harvest Festival becomes the perfect opportunity to spark critical thinking regarding environmental issues and everyone’s contribution towards them.”
Shelby Gresch (SFS ’22), a post-baccalaureate fellow with the Earth Commons, has helped in bringing the garden and the festival to fruition. Gresch said she hopes that the festival brings awareness to pressing environmental concerns, but also helps to build community.
“We’re celebrating the whole environmental community at Georgetown and specifically this idea of the harvest,” Gresch told The Hoya. “The harvest is a bountiful time of the year when we can be grateful for everything that the earth gives us and the way that our society is rising to the challenges of lost biodiversity and climate change.”
Gresch said the garden planning team took trips to other schools and urban gardens for inspiration. She has been instrumental in the process before and after the team broke ground on the new site.
“The whole thing was really so rewarding and gratifying,” Gresch said. “I think that atmosphere was really what we envisioned for the garden all along, that it would be a day the community could come together and celebrate, and so that was really wonderful to see. It felt like a pretty amazing capstone to our first year.”
The Hoya Harvest Garden now provides nearly 2,000 pounds of produce that the Earth Commons distributes between the Hoya Hub food pantry, the Leo O’Donovan dining hall and the Father McKenna Center downtown. The Father McKenna Center provides resources to men in Washington, D.C. experiencing homelessness and food insecurity.
Roughly 85% of the produce is donated to the Hoya Hub and the Father McKenna Center, with the remaining 15% sold to Leo’s, Gresch said.
According to Peter Marra, the dean of the Earth Commons, the garden yielded around 8,000 servings of food during the 2023 season.
“What we’ve done out here is make change for the good,” Marra said during his speech at the event. “When you work in the environmental field, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the negativity and the challenges we face. I choose to always focus on the positives.”
Marra encouraged those interested in getting involved to seek out an Earth Commons class that has integrated the garden into its curriculum or to join an organization like GREEN that does programming in the space.
The Earth Commons also hosts drop-in sessions three times a week for students interested in volunteering at the garden, according to Gresch. Volunteers can work alongside Gresch and student gardeners to help plant and harvest produce.
He praised the work of the Earth Commons team in creating a space that not only brought the community together but revitalized an environment on campus.
“We’ve transformed these raised beds from non-native plants that weren’t really providing any ecosystem benefits by replenishing the soil and creating foods that will sustain native birds and insects,” Marra said. “We’re turning this whole site into an incredible ecosystem that is filled with people enjoying what’s here.”
Marra says the beauty of the event is the ability to expand people’s connections with their source of sustenance.
“You can see how it gets people excited about being around food, about being around the harvest and enjoying this beautiful day together,” Marra said.