Carrots, tomatoes and peas, oh my!
From learning to eating to just having fun, Davis students and residents participate in the world of gardening with the establishment of over nine non-domestic gardens throughout the UC Davis campus and community.
“I chose to come to UC Davis because it is one of the few schools that teaches agriculture, and what I wanted to learn in my time here is the union of community and agriculture,” said Lauren Cockrell, a junior sustainable agriculture and food systems major.
Cockrell works at a public garden on campus that is a part of the Experimental College (EC), hence its name, the EC Garden. This garden rents out plots for a small fee, supplying gardeners with water, mulch, manure, tools and advice, giving anyone the opportunity to develop their green thumb.
“This is a swath of land that showcases different forms of agriculture. The student farm is more efficiency-based, the Domes are more house-based and [the EC garden] is the amalgam of the two,” Cockrell said. “If you don’t have enough room in your backyard, you can just come out here and have your own little plot and be part of a greater community of gardening.”
Another gardening option, also offering a public gardening community, is the Davis Community Garden, run by the city. This garden has a similar concept as the EC Garden with minor variations and an off-campus location, which can better suit certain gardeners.
Jane Schafer-Kramer has been the Davis Community Garden coordinator for the past 11 years. Gardening is one of the reasons that she lives in Davis; she said that she has been interested in gardening since she was young.
After having to give up her plot due to time constraints, she returned for a part-time position to help with upkeep and to continue her hobby.
“I got involved because I am interested in seeing this succeed and keeping it going. I consider it my health club, actually. I do this for exercise and for therapy,” Schafer-Kramer said. “It’s also a very social place with a very diverse group of people. Gardeners tend to be pretty mellow and they are nice people to hang around with.”
Similar to Schafer-Kramer, Cockrell finds gardening to be very rewarding as well, and she shed light on why she and others are so involved with this hobby.
“My favorite thing is seeing those little seedlings come up,” Cockrell said. “But I think what other people would say is tasting a real tomato for the first time, one that you have grown. Foods never taste the same in the store as having them freshly picked and grown on your own.”
Gardening, however, does present some problems, as people have to deal with the elements, as well as pests, such as squirrels and rabbits that wander into the gardens to eat their crops.
However, such problems only bring the gardeners together, for these gardens foster a community among the owners of the plots in which everyone is supportive of the others’ goals and successes.
Schafer-Kramer described how her fellow gardener gave her a tomato that he considered to be “the best he had ever grown,” leading her to plant its seeds into her own garden.
“When it comes to growing crops, people are stoked if their neighbor has 12-foot tall sunflowers. Everyone is excited for each other and what they are growing,” Cockrell said.
Similar to these gardens, the concept of sustainable food is practiced at the Plants and Environmental Sciences building with the Salad Bowl, a smaller-scale garden available for people to pick leaves and other veggies to make a personal salad.
Once a week, they offer a wash station, a salad spinner and dressings for people on campus who are looking for a freshly picked and tossed salad for lunch.
Sophomore environmental policy major Alicia Halpern helped plant some of the crops in the Salad Bowl as a volunteer and has visited the garden for some harvesting of her own.
“It’s awesome that there are so many gardens on campus,” Halpern said. “It goes with the whole eating-local thing and knowing where our food comes from.”
As far as knowing where food comes from, the Davis community offers various opportunities for its residents to eat locally. Davis is home to the Student Farm and the famous Davis Farmers Market, as well as on-campus co-operatives and the Domes for student living options that all encompass a gardening community and the concept of eating homegrown food.
This sort of natural-food concept is shared in the gardening community, with many gardens in Davis contributing to residents’ household meals.
“I think in general we have a food culture,” Cockrell said. “With our Farmers Market, with the Davis Food Co-op and the living co-ops on campus, and the fact that initially we were just the farm of UC Berkeley, it’s in our history. With the great soil that we have here, I think this whole area just breathes agriculture.”
But regardless of your reasoning for working in a garden, whether its food for your home, crops for sale, a chance to learn, a service opportunity or just for fun, all gardens have a common theme.
“It teaches you patience,” Schafer-Kramer said. “It teaches you the value of hard work; you are always at the mercy of nature.”
DEVON BOHART can be reached at email@example.com.