Michael Accardo, psychology major and Residential Advisor in Ware College House, apparently also has a green thumb. As the Head Gardener of the Penn Garden Club, Michael has been cultivating interest in campus gardening projects that have lost their champion, usually through graduation or an end to funding. Under his guidance, the Garden Club is working on reviving the garden at Rodin College House, planted originally as a Fall 2009 Green Fund project. As part of this work on the Rodin Garden, students are starting seeds at the Women’s Center, at the BioPond greenhouses, and even in their dorm rooms. Michael is also gathering resources to restart the composting project at Mayer Hall (also a 2009 Green Fund project) and plans to use that material in the Rodin Garden.
As someone who grew up with friends who lived on farms, and tending his own small suburban vegetable plot, Michael is committed to demonstrating at Penn sustainable and organic growing in an urban environment. In this effort, Penn Garden Club works often with UNI* to provide garden training to members of both organizations about better growing practices and planning.
What city/town are you from? How does it compare to (or differ from) Penn’s urban campus?
I am from Medford, NY (in Suffolk County Long Island). It's suburban, and within 15 minutes of farmland, so people from my high school were from varying backgrounds. I was surprised by how much green Penn has been able to maintain on campus.
Have you always been interested in gardening? Has it risen out of your interest in environmental sustainability, or a particular issue such as food self-sufficiency?
I've always liked to grow things. It started out as flowers, but in fifth grade, I started learning about food scarcity and hunger issues. As part of a class project, we each grew a vegetable plant in the window of our classroom. I grew a lima bean plant, and it somehow shot up, wrapped around the blinds cord, and hit the ceiling. After I took it home, I transplanted it in my mom's flower garden, and since then, that's been the site of my vegetable patch. Over the years, I've done several speeches and presentations in school on the importance of hunger awareness and vegetable planting.
What have you learned about Penn students as you have participated in these greening efforts?
People love to get involved in growing vegetables and herbs and are easily excited by the possibilities. People are consistently amazed and fulfilled by helping a seed reach its full potential. Also, people care about the earth. Though it may never impact them directly, Penn students from all over the world will come together to help with a local conservation effort.
Are there any upcoming events or activities that the Penn community should keep an eye out for?
Penn Green Week is coming up, March 22-30. Student Sustainability at Penn (SSAP) has arranged myriad events during that week. Penn Garden Club will be having our first major workday on that Sunday, the 24th, in the Rodin Garden.
What is one simple sustainable action that you think people could take in their daily lives?
Everyone knows to turn off the lights, unplug things you're not using, don't let the water run, recycle, etc. These are all really easy things. One of my favorite green practices is composting. It's easy to find a list of what can and can't be composted, but pretty much all organic materials can be worked back into the soil instead of being thrown into the general trash. It will become even easier now that the Mayer compost project is going to be revitalized. I've mostly just tried to show that students want to contribute to this project. Whenever I'm in the garden, people ask about composting, and it is a really neat process.
What are your plans after graduation from Penn?
I'm not planning on a “green” career by definition. I'm going to grad school to continue with clinical psychology research. That's the thing about sustainability, it doesn't have to be what you're focused on, but everyone can participate in their own way.
*The Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative (UNI) is a program of University of Pennsylvania’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships to address issues of poor nutrition and physical fitness in West Philadelphia.