College Community Gardens promote growth and healing in the wake of Covid

Credit: Arabel Meyer/EdSource A student holds eggs from Cal Poly SLO Gardens.

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It is universally acknowledged that today’s youth have been dealt a harsh treatment in terms of education during the pandemic. As one of the unfortunate students who graduated from high school and entered college in 2020, I understand this struggle.

For my classmates and I, under the cloud of Covid-19, it was not only difficult to adjust to the new educational environment of the college, but the social environment as well.

I moved to San Luis Obispo to attend Cal Poly in the winter of 2021. I spent a quarter of the year at home, with all my classes on Zoom, but those months left me feeling lonely and disconnected.

As an incoming college student, moving to a new city can be nerve-wracking at the best of circumstances. Adding the effects and hysteria of a global pandemic to these stresses made it doubly difficult.

As our online classes and other social environments like student clubs put their in-person meetings on hold, I’m left with some of the same resentments I felt when I went to school remotely. As someone who enjoys time spent outside and with others, it was difficult to spend so much time indoors, staring at a computer screen.

But, sometimes solutions present themselves in unconventional ways. For me, the missing parts of my college experience were a shovel and a hand in the ground.

In my sophomore year, I discovered the Cal Poly Student Experimental Farm, a student-run community garden on my college campus. Besides its personal impact on me as a source of community during my offline time, this garden represents so much more.

The first time I found Campus Garden, I was in awe of the space. Located on a hill below Cal Poly’s larger campus, a wide carpet of green divides the landscape. Among the lawn spaces are orderly beds of planted plants and fruit trees, with a path leading to a walled barn and pond to house the resident chickens and ducks.

This space is sponsored by the Cal Poly Garden Club, a community of earth-loving students with whom I felt instantly connected. Attending weekly meetings is starting to feel like a kind of healing. I was looking forward to Sunday mornings when I could get up early to traverse the gravel path to the garden and work in the sunlight for several hours.

said Emma Roberts, a sophomore and senior member of the school’s club. “We have this little piece of nature that we take care of, and she tends to us, too. It’s nice because everyone needs their own space outside.”

She added, “The college only provides your indoor space, but if the school has a garden, it provides outdoor space for the students.”

Research has begun into the effect of active green spaces on university campuses. A 2019 study by researchers at Furman and Yale University noted that “students who frequently engage with green spaces in active ways report higher quality of life, better overall mood, and less stress.”

Many young men in universities share my desire to seek healing from the sun and soil. In the early 2000s, few gardens existed on college campuses. However, in the past decade, there has been an increase in the cultivation of these community spaces. Eighteen CSU campuses are listed as having student community gardens; All ten UCLA campuses have some type of student garden.

Many other universities in California have exceptional garden spaces. Among them are the campus gardens of the University of California, Berkeley. The campus has more than 10 gardens that offer a community aspect, experimental research, and a resource to combat food insecurity in students. Pomona College’s organic farm operates on an acre of land and is actively used as an educational tool for small-scale agriculture and sustainability.

For me, the time I spent working in the campus garden was a much needed source of connection and a way to practice a sustainable and mindful lifestyle.

Eva Moylan, a sophomore and longtime club member summed it up. “I think we’re really lucky to have this space,” she said. “Even if you’re not involved, just to have a space for the students to sit quietly and see nature — I think it would be really valuable to have on any campus.”

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Arabelle Meyer A third-year journalism major at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and a member of the California Student Journalism Corps at EdSource.

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