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New Rooftop Garden Grows UMass Lowell’s Sustainability Initiatives

Students Will Help Maintain, Learn from Agriculture Project

Two students help containers at the rooftop garden Photo by Ed Brennen
UMass Lowell students helped build and will help manage a new rooftop garden at O'Leary Library.


Contacts for media: Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944, and Christine Gillette, 978-758-4664, 

LOWELL, Mass. – A new garden at UMass Lowell will help teach students about sustainability and provide food and seeds for the community when classes resume for the fall semester.  

Located on a rooftop terrace outside the O’Leary Library on UMass Lowell’s South Campus, the garden is the latest project undertaken by UMass Lowell’s Urban Agriculture Program, a collaboration between the university’s Office of Sustainability and the Lowell-based urban farming nonprofit Mill City Grows.

“This is a nice addition to South Campus. It’s great to see,” said UMass Lowell Director of Sustainability Ruairi O’Mahony. He was among a dozen staff members, students and other volunteers from the university and Mill City Grows who last month built and planted the garden, which is brimming with 500 neatly arranged containers of flowers, herbs and vegetables.

Mill City Grows, which manages the UMass Lowell Rist Urban Agriculture Greenhouse on East Campus and the Green Roof garden at University Crossing, will oversee the new garden at the library. Herbs and vegetables will be made available to the community through the Mill City Grows Mobile Market. 

UMass Lowell students who work in the university’s Office of Sustainability will help harvest and maintain the garden, which could also be used as a hands-on learning space for students studying nutritional science, education and other fields, according to O’Mahony.

“The garden helps increase food access for the community, greens the campus and serves as a living lab for students, so it’s just a win for everybody,” he said.

The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources supported the project with a $45,000 grant, which funded an engineering study to ensure the 2,300-square-foot rooftop could bear the weight of the garden. The grant also supported the purchase of the garden’s drip-irrigation system and other supplies. 

The new garden grows herbs such as basil, cilantro, thyme, rosemary and lavender, along with flowers such as echinacea, nasturtium and a variety of wildflowers ideal for bees. Crops such as corn, flax, safflower, sorghum and adzuki beans will also be grown and may be used in UMass Lowell’s Farm Share program and at the university’s South Campus Dining Commons, according to O’Mahony. In addition, some crops will be harvested for seeds. 

Huzaifa Emran, an energy engineering graduate student who works in the Office of Sustainability, helped build the garden, which reflects his interest in sustainable energy.

“My concentration is solar, and what we’re doing with the Office of Sustainability is basically conservation of the environment,” said Emran, who lives in Lowell. “If you can contribute in the slightest degree, why not?”

Biomedical engineering major Agllaia Nikolla, who also lives in Lowell, worked with Emran to plant the garden.

“I am excited to witness the ‘butterfly effect’ this project will create in our community. For me, this rooftop garden is such a telling symbol about how priceless life can be and how little we need to be happy. Everyone here is working from the heart and the excellent teamwork speaks for itself about how important this project is for all of us,” she said. 

Austin Thoren, a peace and conflict studies major who grew up in Methuen and now lives in Chelmsford, is another student who helped assemble the garden, including its irrigation system. Now a senior, he began working in the university’s Office of Sustainability as a freshman.

“I love this job. I would do it another couple of years if I could,” he said. “I’ve been telling people about the garden for weeks. It looks awesome.”

UMass Lowell is a national research university offering its more than 18,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be leaders in their communities and around the globe.