While in undergrad, I helped found and later managed a free-access community garden: Ellie’s Garden. Ellie’s Garden is fondly named after Eleanor Roosevelt and her victory gardens. We started as just a handful of students, applying for grants and working with administrators to get approval to transform a bare plot of land in between two residence halls (that formerly hosted two diseased invasive trees) into an edible garden. Each week, we welcomed students to work with their hands as a stress reliever from many hours on computers and in lectures. We provided a safe space for younger students and peers to share their struggles and be themselves in whatever way they identified.
Each term, we harvested produce and made a healthy ‘slow food’ meal for our fellow students, often attracting 80-100 students who welcomed the break from instant ramen and chips. While I was Co-Chair (or president), I co-led the design, grant application, approvals, and ground-breaking day for an expansion to the garden, creating an entire new plot. During my year as sole Chair, I organized a similar process, resulting in of the addition of two new boxes that are composed entirely of native plants.
At the end of my second year facilitating the club, I made the decision to step down and let two younger students take my place. Too often I had seen flourishing clubs fall apart the year after the primary leaders graduated. The garden was going to be different. I stayed on as a mentor (or ‘Garden Sage’), during my last year, providing support and resources when the new leaders needed help with logistics, planned events, and again, wanted to again expand the garden.
I gradually stepped back, and the club continues today, providing community and green space to a college that once had little sense of place and unity. Ellie’s Garden occupies three plots between residence hall buildings and has inspired other gardens to pop up around campus. I cannot take credit for the many people and hours that it takes to make the garden flourish. After all, the garden and it’s members were my consistent source of joy and meaning during my undergraduate experience. Yet, I am proud of my part in contributions made, and I am grateful for all the service and relationships that spawned from the creation of Ellie’s Garden.
Ellie’s Garden was recently featured in a KPBS mini documentary (start watching at 15:15) along with other UCSD gardens (one of which was partly inspired by Ellie’s Garden: Torrey Pines). Ellie’s Garden was the second community garden on campus, but now there are many. The original biodigester design stationed at Rogers Garden–the final version shown in the video–was funded by a The Green Initiative Fund Grant (TGIF) grant while I was on the allocation committee as a part of the Student Sustainability Collective. I advocated to fund the project was green energy source and sustainable fertilizer resource for campus.