This spring quarter, I and two other interns, Casey Wing and Monica Salandra, have been working on transforming the once empty space between A1 and A3 in the Sustainable Living Center into an “urban garden”. Although that space typically would not be considered urban, it serves as a demonstration site on the practice of urban gardening. The garden’s purpose, apart from providing yummy fruits and vegetables to all, is to educate on urban gardening techniques. We want the garden to encourage others to reclaim vacant spaces for producing their own food. The garden also seeks to raise awareness on issues that are prevalent in urban communities, such as food deserts, which are districts with little or no access to fresh and affordable foods. I learned a whole lot through this internship; it has expanded my thoughts on food and has made me truly appreciate how lucky we are to have access to such an abundance of fresh food in gardens not only in PICA, but on our UCSC campus and in our Santa Cruz community.
Throughout our internship, we had different guests who came to speak to us on a variety of topics. Some guests were community members who had started their own organizations related to food, like Steve Schnaar of the Santa Cruz Fruit Tree Project. Schnaar’s project aims to seek out residents who are willing to share their surplus fruit. The fruit then is given to friends, neighbors, soup kitchens, anyone else who might make use of it. Guests like Schnaar definitely enriched my experience as an intern; meeting local people actively involved in the food justice movement really put into perspective for me the saying “I cannot do everything, but I can do something.” I believe that at times, trying to make a difference in one’s community can seem overwhelming and infeasible, but as long as someone is passionate for what they are trying to accomplish, then anything can be done. We also became familiar with several other urban gardens in the U.S. and the changes that these gardens are bringing to their respective communities. One that struck me was a garden project in South Central Los Angeles, led by renegade gardener Ron Finley. In a video we watched, he said that he wants to transform his neighborhood’s food deserts, “where the drive-thrus are killing more people than drive-bys,” into food forests. All of these different outlets to learn about food issues – guest speakers, videos, readings – were integral in helping me and the other interns understand the challenges that people face in relation to food.
In deciding on the design of our garden, we wanted the supplies we used to be things that could be found relatively easily in urban neighborhoods. We have a total of six raised garden beds, and each bed is made of something different – wood, rocks, hay bales – to show the diversity that is possible in an urban garden space. We also incorporated an old dresser drawer and a sink into our garden! The dresser drawer is my personal favorite; I can’t wait to see flowers blooming beautifully from it. We hope that what we designed in the space between A1 and A3 is a nice model of what an urban garden can look like.
As this quarter and year is coming to a finish, we want the community to know that our garden is open to all. For those of you staying in town over the summer, help yourself to a mandarin orange! They should be ready for picking in July. Over the next months, there will also be cucumber, potatoes, tomatoes, and more. In the fall of next year, when our garden will be very bountiful, Casey, Monica, and I hope to hold a workshop of some sort in our garden, that relates to the issues we learned about as interns under the supervision of the fabulous Bee Vadakan. This internship would not have been as fun and interesting and wonderful had it not been for the guidance of Bee. This experience has been one that I loved and that has raised my awareness in food justice issues, and I thank every one who was a part of it.
Sandra Rodriguez is a second year Sociology major. She is a happy PICAn who enjoys the outdoors, food, live music, and other things that make this world great. She plans on taking what she learned in PICA, and continue living sustainably, wherever life takes her.