Julieta Sherk’s academic career began at a surprisingly young age.
“My grandmother had a kitchen garden,” she says. “There’s a family story about me as a baby sneaking out of my crib and crawling into the garden. They found me sitting there under the trees, eating guava off the ground.”
Sherk followed that passion for edible plants to NC State, where she joined the faculty this semester as a new assistant professor of landscape design in the horticultural science department. She’s interested in promoting ways to include edible plants in urban environments. This involves designing with edible plants, like fruits and vegetables, in landscapes for people.
Her goal is to move plants that have been traditionally used on the farm into unconventional public and private spaces. She’s exploring the use of these new growing areas while following good civic design principles. That may be as simple as planting fruit trees in a public park or as advanced as using hydroponic techniques on vertical building surfaces.
“The goal is not simply designing landscapes for producing crops, rather designing people spaces that are productive,” she explains. “Healthy communities need green open space. I’m focusing on how to incorporate edibles as another layer to improve public health. The idea is to enrich our day-to-day lives with the presence of edibles.”
Considering that we’re still feeling the effects of the economic downturn this may be a way to promote financial health as well as healthy eating.
“We have a history of growing crops in hard times,” she says. “During the Depression, people went back to growing crops. Today, there’s a movement to use personal and public spaces in densely populated environments as places to produce edibles. People with limited space may only have a small window garden with herbs in their home. However they find great fulfillment in reconnecting with the basic desire to grow their own food.”
Although Sherk is new to the horticultural science department, she isn’t new to NC State. She worked as an adjunct professor in the landscape architecture department for six years.