On Harvard Yard: Out of the Ivory Tower and into the Dirt

What’s your image of a normal professor and student at Harvard? A bespectacled professor sipping an after-dinner port, reading Milton and listening to Bach? A hardworking group of students in the library all night on a Friday, guzzling coffee and finishing up their papers on the work of Proust and the unified field theory?
Whatever you picture folks doing at Harvard, we’re guessing it’s not playing in the mud.

Turns out that some of the braniacs at America’s oldest university have been working right along on the environment. Some are putting down their pens and books and realizing that going green starts in their own backyard. Literally.

Peter Gugius, one of the stars of DIRT! The Movie is working on generating energy directly from mico organisms in the soil.

Others are working on enriching the dirt under Harvard’s lawns with organic compost instead of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. In two years, the soil underneath Harvard’s 80 acres will be…(gasp)…completely organic.

It all started when Eric T. Fleischer, the director of horticulture at the Battery Park City Parks Conservancy in New York City, spent a year at the university as a Loeb Fellow at the Graduate School of Design. He started the experiment on a one-acre plot as a pilot and the results were dramatic: the soil became less compacted, roots grew more vigorously, and trees became healthier.

At the outset of the program, Fleisher says, “the soil was so compacted, we could not dig past three inches.” But, now, you can cut through the dirt on Harvard Yard “like the proverbial knife through butter,” reports the New York Times.

In addition to nurturing healthier soil, the program has cut the University’s costs tremendously. It has reduced irrigation use by 30 percent and saved nearly 2 million gallons of water.

The best part of the story? You don’t need a $30 billion endowment and an Ivy League education to reproduce these results in your own yard. Edible Schoolyard, a program for middle-schoolers, has been composting and growing its own gardens all over the country for over a decade.

Congrats Harvard, you just got CERTIFIED DIRTIFIED!
(You can go back to the library now.)