Students cultivate community of gardeners with Aggies Grow Veggies
If you weren’t raised in a family that gardens, you might not realize how fun, easy and affordable growing your own produce can be. Aggies Grow Veggies, an interactive project led by students at the University of California, Davis, is helping change that by introducing more young people to the joy of gardening in their dorm, community and own backyard.
“Our goal is to make gardening more accessible and build lifelong food production skills, especially for first-generation college students, students of color, and those from low-income backgrounds,” said Borah Lim, a graduate student in International Agricultural Development who is leading the effort with support from the UC Davis Student Farm. “We want to connect UC Davis students with a larger community of gardeners and develop an inclusive, diverse group of advocates for sustainable and resilient food systems.”
Cultivating community can be challenging during a pandemic, but Lim and her team have found virtual ways to make it happen. This spring, Lim and co-instructor Anca Barcu, master’s student in horticulture and agronomy, hosted a series of free, online Gardening 101 workshops where students planted crops like lettuce, basil and tomatoes together from the comfort of their homes. Lim mailed participants the seeds, transplants and other garden supplies they needed.
To expand and build on that community, Aggies Grow Veggies also launched a social-media campaigndesigned by Stephanie Tsai, an undergraduate student in entomology. Tsai hosts a YouTube channel where budding gardeners can find student-made videos along with answers and inspiration for how to grow produce on a budget. The curated content will soon include recordings of the Gardening 101 workshops and podcasts. Contributors also include student organizations such as Net Impact Davis, whose members provide feedback, video captioning and gardening advice.
“Social distancing doesn’t keep us from gardening!” Tsai said. “In fact, it makes building a vibrant, virtual community of gardeners that much more important and rewarding.”
Katharina Ullman, director of the Student Farm, says Aggies Grow Veggies is paving the way for a rich, diverse community of gardeners at UC Davis.
“Borah, Stephanie and their partners have been thoughtful and creative in their approach, especially with their focus on low-cost and small-space gardening,” Ullman said. “I’m excited to see how the community grows in the upcoming year!”
This fall, if COVID-19-protocols go according to plan, students will be able return to campus and garden side-by-side at spaces like the UC Davis Student Farm and the ASUCD Community Experimental Garden. Lim and Tsai will have graduated by then and might not be able to join their peers in person. But they are happy knowing they helped plant the seed.
“Growing lettuce on your deck isn’t going to solve the problem of food insecurity,” Lim said. “But it’s a start. We’re grateful for the opportunity to introduce more students to the joy of growing your own food.”