ESTERO, Fla — Protecting the environment is a big priority in Southwest Florida.
The University of Florida Gulf Coast University has been named the Top Green School in Florida by the Princeton Review.
Hidden within the campus is a student-led food forest.
The forest provides students with a hands-on learning approach.
For FGCU student Hannah Richardson this is where she spends
a lot of her time.
“We have over 250-tropical, subtropical species within a half-acre space,” Richardson says.
The food forest seeks to elevate environmental sustainability by providing organic fruits and vegetables across campus and Southwest Florida communities.
“Mexican Sunflower is beautiful; it smells like honey because it grows so fast, we can chop it down, and then we would basically lay it underneath a fruit tree instead of adding mulch from an outside source,“ Richardson says.
According to the Princeton Review, FGCU is the most environmentally responsible university in Florida.
FGCU professor Jennifer Jones credits all students having to complete a three-credit course on sustainability regardless of their major.
“When we talk about sustainability, yes it’s to improve our environment, to help with climate change, we want cleaner water, but those are the things that are also going to give us the economic sustainability and stability,” Professor Jones says.
Marline Smith is a Marine Science and Environmental studies student.
“It’s our job as people that live on this earth to live sustainably and reduce our impact as much as possible,” Smith says.
Coming in at 32, FGCU was the only school in Florida to rank among the “top 50 green colleges” across the U.S.
“I think that’s a really cool progress because we do put on a lot of amazing programs here at FGCU, so it’s really nice to be recognized for the work that we do,” Smith says.
Smith says a 15-acre solar field is also helping push FGCU to be one of the country's top green colleges.
“Instead of just relying on outside grids, we use these FGCU solar fields to kind of offset the usage that we have, so it’s a really cool opportunity again to use that real-world application and give it here at FGCU,” Smith says.