SALISBURY -- It may be a reversal of the movie cliche, but university officials here have discovered that even if they don't build a ball field, people will come.
Faced with budget cuts that prevented them from turning 9 acres of land into new athletic fields, Salisbury State University administrators decided to let campus employees and students use some of the property to grow vegetables and flowers.
The idea quickly took root. So far, 26 plots have been set aside for faculty members, university staff and students who are testing their green thumbs by planting tomatoes, corn, peppers, watermelon and other vegetables and flowers that traditionally flourish in the rich Lower Eastern Shore soil.
Les Lutz, the university's horticulture director, said that in addition to allowing free use of the land, the school tilled the 20-by-35-foot plots, covered the area with compost, provided hose connections for watering and conducted two three-hour gardening seminars to help novices get the most out of their little gardens.
And already the results are evident.
"We've got some things growing," Mr. Lutz said. "Everything is small, but things are popping."
The so-called "victory garden," situated on cleared land between the school's Seagull Stadium and its indoor tennis facility, came about as a result of a conversation last winter between university President Thomas E. Bellavance and the vice president of administration, Joseph K. Gilbert.
The two men had been bemoaning budget problems facing the school, which is a part of the state's public university system. Because of Maryland's financial crisis and state-ordered reductions in education aid, Salisbury State had to cut nearly $2 million from its 1992 $19 million budget.
The cuts forced Salisbury State's 665 full-time employees to accept three furlough days and a number of projects were held up, including a $250,000 plan to build four new athletic fields on a recently acquired 9-acre parcel.
Mr. Gilbert said that he remembered helping his grandmother tend her victory garden in Allentown, Pa., during World War II and suggested that a similar project could boost spirits at the Salisbury campus.
President Bellavance agreed, and the land was made available to campus residents and employees, many of whom live in apartments and have never had their own gardens.
Mr. Gilbert said no one expects to save money by growing his or her own vegetables, because produce on the Eastern Shore is plentiful and cheap at harvest time.
Instead, gardeners can reap another kind of reward.
"We've already had a wonderful experience doing this," said Mr. Gilbert, who with his wife is caring for one of the plots.
"This has been a gratifying experience, breaking ground, planting tomatoes, planting peas. It's the fact that we are doing it, my wife and I are doing something together. It's a nice little happening."