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Friday, June 24, 2022
The GreenHouse Learning Community is housed in Leopold Residence Hall, and it holds 93 enrolled students who can get hands-on experience in the dorm's greenhouse. 

The GreenHouse Learning Community is housed in Leopold Residence Hall, and it holds 93 enrolled students who can get hands-on experience in the dorm's greenhouse. 

GreenHouse community plants importance of sustainability in residents’ minds

Hidden in the depths of the Lakeshore neighborhood residence halls is a living option with a feature unique to it: Aldo Leopold Residence Hall, which holds a small greenhouse on its roof, home to the GreenHouse Learning Community.

GreenHouse is a group that allows students to learn about the environment and sustainability through doing hands-on experiments, reading materials by conservationist Aldo Leopold himself and other tools.

The 93 UW-Madison students living in the learning community are given the opportunity to register for GreenHouse seminars; one is offered as an introductory course in the fall semester that students are highly encouraged to take, and four more are available in the spring that focus on various environmental topics, including globalization, agroecology and clothes-making.

“There’s a lot of ‘DIY’ stuff that we do,” said Alan Turnquist, the GreenHouse Learning Community program coordinator. “The idea of using your head, hands and heart is a way to cultivate different kinds of involvement and engagement with how humans interact with each other and the planet.”

According to Turnquist, the community gives students, especially freshmen transitioning to college, a meaningful purpose to be involved with others and the idea is to have thoughtful experiences outside of the classroom.

Students learn the ideas of what place humans have in the world and the human value of the landscape.

“Fundamentally, it’s important for you to understand how you’re a part of your community and what kind of way that you’re going to help improve it,” Turnquist said.

The residence hall includes other uncommon features, most noticeably of which are several solar panels on the roof.

A program room in the basement of the hall has materials that allow students to work on projects of their choosing. Various tools and books are available, and a large table fills most of the space, where a student building a guitar exhibited the endless opportunities that the room offers.

Environment-friendly features include shower water meters and individual thermostats in each room.

“Sustainability can mean a lot of different things,” Turnquist said. “Human interaction with nature is an important part of it, we have transitioned into something broader that helps students think about their values and how they act them out in the world.”

UW-Madison senior Jacob Kositzke lived in the learning community his freshman year. GreenHouse hired him as an intern that following summer, and he is now the gardening program assistant, helping to operate the community garden at Eagle Heights.

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“People that are in the ‘Seed to Ground’ seminar help put together the garden,” Kositzke said. “We hire five of them to maintain the garden over the summer, so that when fall rolls around they have a full garden and food.”

The community partners with the organizations Slow Food and F.H. King, among others, and donates their time and products. They also work with Allen Centennial Garden and plant onions and shiitake mushrooms in that space.

The students volunteer at the Lakeshore Nature Preserve frequently. They also give their time to the East Madison Community Center and cook healthy meals for children that visit.

“We engage the idea of food a lot, for a lot of reasons,” Turnquist said. “We want to elevate the consciousness of how the food was brought to the table, but also the sense of community that food brings.”

To practice this concept, GreenHouse holds monthly meals for learning community members, featuring speakers who discuss the importance of sustainability.

The group reaches out to the Madison community as well by educating others on what they have learned.

“We are the incubator for the botobiology program, which is a curriculum that teaches kindergarten through twelfth grade students about biology,” Kosiztke said. “They take recycled materials, like water bottles from sports game, and also teach them about things like succulents and simple hydroponics systems.”

Turnquist believes the community itself makes the greatest impact on students, who then learn about the world and themselves and, hopefully, utilize that knowledge to better their world.

“It’s been a huge impact on my time here,” Kositzke said. “I hope that experience extends to other students, and that they become aware of the issues that are out there. We give them that kind of training, and get them to do the outreach and share what they’ve been learning.”

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