You hear the familiar click and beep of a VCard being swiped from within as a heavy metal door swings towards you with an audible protestation emanating from its rusty blots. Walking through the entryway, a rush of sweet, humid air envelops you. It dances on your skin, warming your rosy cheeks and nipped ears, frosted by the harsh Poughkeepsie elements. Your pupils struggle to expand in the bright light which streams in from above, momentarily blinding you. After a few seconds you adjust, but all you can make out is row after row of leaves as far as the eye can see. “Where am I?” you may ask yourself, but then you come to your senses and realize that you’re standing right smack in the middle of Vassar’s very own greenhouse!
Constructed behind Olmstead Hall in 1973, the Vassar College Greenhouse serves as a supplementary yet sophisticated asset in the Biology Department for a hands-on approach to learning. Home to the Vassar’s teaching plant collection, it holds an eclectic variety of over seven hundred specimens from over a hundred and twenty different families. Additionally, it houses the research projects of both Vassar students and faculty members. Past faculty research projects have included studies on plant reproductive ecology, insect-plant interactions, fungus-plant relationships, ecological genetics, and plant physiological ecology. Students from the “VEG” also utilize the space to get a head start on seedling development for their spring garden patch. Even during the early spring months when the VC Greenhouse isn’t home to the only blooming banana plant in Poughkeepsie, or during the summer when Bio 208 (Plant Diversity and Evolution) isn’t growing bin after bin of “mystery” vegetables to identify at the end of their semester, the greenhouse continues to turn out tasty fruits and veggies.
The students and faculty of Vassar College are welcome to stop by the greenhouse during visiting hours between 9 AM and 12 PM, seven days a week or by appointment. The greenhouse not only provides a variety of interesting plants to observe and learn from, but also creates a relaxing atmosphere to work, read, or think in. Unfortunately, the greenhouse has recently been receiving fewer guests. VC Greenhouse laboratory technician Keri VanCamp speculates that the cause of this decrease in onlookers might be due to the construction on Olmsted Hall, and the new science building that has “certainly made the greenhouse more difficult to access. It's less visible and people’s routes have changed as a result of the work being done in the parking lot. On top of that, the work they’re doing is pretty loud so you can hear it inside the greenhouse,” said VanCamp.
In response to this decrease in visitors, the greenhouse has recently launched a new outreach initiative. The goal of this initiative is to increase the Vassar community’s awareness of the greenhouse and everything that the space has to offer. Biology Department fieldwork intern, Michael Gambardella, has been working with VanCamp and Professor Ronsheim on a variety of programs aimed at increasing viewership. Their most prominent endeavor is the creation of a self-guided ethno-botanical tour of the greenhouse for students, faculty, and members of the greater Poughkeepsie-Arlington community. VanCamp and Gambardella are also planning on holding an open house this coming fall, once the tour has been completed and installed. “It will be a day for people in the community to come in, enjoy the plants, and raise awareness about the Vassar Greenhouse and all the functions it serves the college,” said VanCamp. The greenhouse recently launched their Facebook page that is filled with vibrant pictures of fruits and flowers currently in bloom, short descriptions on a variety of species, general information about the greenhouse, and eco-tips about buying local, conserving water, and reducing CO2 emissions that make going green fun and easy.
Although the construction may be the cause of a decrease in traffic through the greenhouse, VanCamp implied that the situation is definitely not all bad. “The good news,” she said, “is that we’ll be getting a new fitotron, which is the facility that houses all our growth chambers… I also hope that the construction will make the connection between the greenhouse and Olmsted stronger and that will mean more people coming into the greenhouse more regularly.”
For more information about the Vassar College Greenhouse, visit the Vassar Greenhouse Facebook page at www.facebook.com/VassarGreenhouse or simply stop by and experience it for yourself firsthand.
Written by: Michael Gambardella
Photo credit: Dion Kauffman